I can Math . . . I mean Science . . . I mean Historicalcy . . . Sigh, I’m Literate
2 Fe(NH4)2(SO4)2*3H2O + H2O2 + K2C2O4 + 3H2C2O4 -> 2 K3Fe(C2O4)3*3H2O + 2(NH4)2SO4+ 2H2SO4 + 8H2O . . . Did you understand that? Yep, me neither! The truth is a lot of us would not know the first step to solving that equation (science people, do not count). So that right there is one of the most complicated chemistry equations in the world (well, according to Google) and it begs the question of “What does it mean to be literate in a discipline?” This is a question that frankly has a simple answer but yet the simplicity of it makes it complicated. I believe that as long as you are able to understand and be proficient at interpreting your discipline, then you are literate within your discipline. Then, this breaks down in different forms of language and vocabulary, different equations and elements, and being able to translate an older source into meaning. But in order to get students to understand your discipline, you must first get them to value your discipline’s way of thinking. Like when Plaut says “Most of our students have not been trained to value thinking, and so it is sometimes difficult to make them care about their own thought process.” (Plaut, 17) Like I said before, I believe that every student is good at something, but that does not mean that you cannot use literacy to get the students thinking deeply about subjects they are not good at.
“When I get data about an individual student’s weakness, it’s as if that student is asking me for help.” (Plaut, 111) That quote stood out to me because for some reason I have never thought of it like that before and that teacher is using an excellent thinking method to go about it. I think we should allow more students to see their data across all disciplines that way the teachers and students can work together to work their weaknesses. All students are good at something like Shanahan mentions, “A high school student who can do a reasonably good job of reading a story in an English class might not be able to make much sense of biology or algebra books, and vice versa.” (Shanahan and Shanahan, 45) so why not work across disciplines to help them achieve their goals? It is sometimes hard to get the students to see the relationship between disciplines, it could be a math lesson that was taught two days ago and the students use the same material but do not recognize the math it is presented in a different context, with a different teacher, and a different classroom. Sometimes, we as teachers just have to find the right social ques that make it click for our students. I have seen many kids not understand not understand a math formula for several days but as soon as you relate to football, they get understand it. Lerer states in his speech “In order to understand how to read and write you must understand the history of the reading and writing.” (Lerer, 0:30–0:41) This is a quote that can be used across every discipline, we have to break the baby steps of our discipline before they can sprint and get into the higher levels of learning. Shanahan talks about an experiment that teachers did in a school and what each discipline got from it. Math reading requires more of a precision meaning and words must be understood directly, chemists were mostly interested in the transformation, and historians (of course) looked at who the author or what the source was to see what biases and credibility might be. (Shanahan and Shanahan, 49) This all comes back to the fact that all minds learn and think differently.
Now these disciplines and getting the students to think deeply can all be brought together by (wait for it) . . . LITERACY! As Plaut puts it “Literacy is crucial to getting students actually thinking about math and doing math with their minds . . .Put simply, literacy is making meaning from text by reading, writing, and speaking.” (Plaut, 40) To get students to understand we must incorporate more communication and collaboration between students to students and teachers to students. Rather than the usual copy the definition out of the book and plug and go with formulas. “Teaching content literacy enables teachers to design a curriculum that students can sink their teeth into.” (Goudvis and Harvey, 52) Getting students to read, write, think, and speak about their subjects can help students become literate in their discipline.
Since I am in social studies, I am going to talk about what it means to literate within social studies. Historians want to make sense out of past events and primary sources (evidence) throughout history. “Such a process includes analyzing evidence, interpreting the meaning of evidence, and using evidence to construct and explain historically plausible accounts of the past.” (Monte-Sano and Miles, 30) On top of making sense of past events and primary sources, historians also want to check sources and reliability of those sources. Then there is also being able to read a map like the one posted above. It is fairly simple when compared to the equation above.
Like I have stated before, every kid is good at something. It is our jobs as teachers to find out what that something is and to make it work within our discipline. Helping them translate information within our discipline will help them become literate.
Andrews, Rebecca, and Mick Daniel. Daily Design Gallery. Edited by Brad Maulo and Brian O’Connor, Aug. 2012, www.designtos.com/postpic/2012/08/napoleon-empire-map-battles_95246.jpg. Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.
Goudvis, Anne, & Harvey, Stephanie. (2012). Teaching for Historical Literacy. Educational Leadership[, 69(6), 52–57. Accessed October 23, 2017, from http://www.dianehjohnson.com/uploads/1/3/4/5/13452203/teaching_for_historical_literacy.pdf
Lerer, S. (2017, October 23). The History of Reading and the Literate Life. Lecture presented at TED Talks in California, San Diego. Accessed October 23, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_Z5HNRC_Ic
Monte-Sano, Chauncey, & Miles, Denise. Toward Disciplinary Reading and Writing in History. Teaching Dilemmas and Solutions in Content-Area Literacy, Grades 6–12, 28–52. Accessed October 22, 2017.
Plaut, Suzanne. (2009). The right to literacy in secondary schools: creating a culture of thinking. New York: Teachers College Press.
Shanahan, Timothy, & Shanahan, Cynthia. (2008). Teaching Disciplinary Literacy to Adolescents: Rethinking Content- Area Literacy . Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–61. Accessed October 22, 2017.