As decisions regarding the educational platform is ever changing with different standards, objectives, and goals being pushed for, it is important as educators to create the most effective learning environment that will translate to success not only on standardized tests but in secondary education and through the realms of life. It is just as crucial to prepare my students for mandated high stake tests while not just teaching to the test as I also have to prepare students for higher level schooling. Disciplinary literacy and content area literacy are the two mindsets spearheading the ways to prepare these students.
As the demand for reading increases through education, careers, and citizenship, research has found that the growth of student’s ability to read more complex texts has not. The reason for this stems from the K-12 range. Research has found that schoolbooks and reading demands have softened through grades K-12 (Liben, 2010). Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found that between 1963-1991, the average length of sentences in reading textbooks K-8 were shorter than in books printed from 1946-1962, with the average sentence decreasing from 20 words to 14 words in a 7th-8th grade book. Additionally, they found that the vocabulary of the students declined. The vocabulary level from an 8th grade reader after 1963 was equivalent to 5th grade readers before 1963 and the vocabulary level from a 12th grade reader after 1963 was equivalent to a 7th grade reader before 1963.
While K-12 readings have gotten easier, research shows that college level texts have not gotten easier. Because K-12 readings have gotten easier, students are not ready to handle college texts. Another reason students are not equipped to handle college level texts is at the pedagogical level where high school students are heavily scaffolded through the text and are not expected to do much independent reading like their college counterparts.
To combat these statistics and to help my students reach their full potential, my ideal literacy program consists of a hybrid approach of content and disciplinary literacy that will best serve the needs of all students. Whereas content area literacy focuses on the ability to use reading and writing to learn subject matter in a discipline, teaches skills that a “novice” might use to make sense of a disciplinary text, and emphasizes a set of study skills that can be generalized across content areas using strategies such as pre-reading, monitoring comprehension, and summarizing, disciplinary literacy focuses on how reading and writing are used in the specific discipline being studied and emphasizes the unique tools that the experts use to participate in the work of that discipline by using strategies such as building background knowledge, mapping, and gathering evidence to support and evaluate claims. This will be done amongst all disciplines.
As Brozo et al. (2013) proposes, there needs to be a dialogue between teachers of each discipline and literacy specialists that explores how to overlay adaptable generic content and discipline-dependent literacy practices to meet the learning needs of all students. As content area literacy is to be taught within the developmental paradigm, disciplinary literacy needs to piggyback off of content area literacy to further develop student’s skills and to best prepare them for secondary education and life.
This is critical in all disciplines, especially in Physical Education, where I am able to cover topics such as health, nutrition, and physical fitness. Students need to be able to learn how to read food labels and be able to decipher what is healthy and what is not. They need to be educated on health risks of certain foods. This is a topic that is not covered in schools today and my ideal literacy plan will include this on all levels of education. Being somatically literate is important as well, as students should know the human body and how each part collaborates with each other. Students should also understand the body and mind connection.
In addition, Physical Education is the one subject that can incorporate all other subjects as well. Reading can be a part of every PE class. Foreign language, math, science, and geography can all be incorporated into lessons in order to reinforce material and help prepare them for mandated high stakes testing.
High stakes testing seems to be here to stay, as it is an indicator of college readiness. In 2006, the American College Testing System (ACT) released a study that determined a benchmark score for their reading test. 51% of these students met the benchmark. These students were more likely to enroll in college, earn a grade of B or better in their first-year U.S. History and psychology classes, earn a G.PA. of 3 or higher, and return for a second year at the same institution. The study also found that 47% of students who met the benchmark for reading also met the benchmark for science. However, only 5% of students who did not meet the reading benchmark met the science benchmark (Liben, 2010). The most alarming find was that 49% of students who took the ACT in 2006 performed no better on the more complex reading passages.
Every teacher is a literacy teacher. Every subject will teach students literacy strategies within their disciplines. Common strategies are shared throughout different disciplines and every grade level will address and grow these skills. In this program, every student will be worked with to develop their literacy skills to prepare them for the next step in their academic career and in their life. This is an all-inclusive program where every student (underprivileged, special needs, general education, etc) will be cared for.