Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Enculturating Junior Secondary Students into the Discipline Literacies of Graphics

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Enculturating Junior Secondary Students into the Discipline Literacies of Graphics

Article excerpt


In a recent editorial in this journal, Robyn Henderson (2016) reflected on the nature of literacies and how these differ in different contexts and communities. She made the point, with reference to a rural Queensland community, that literacies in that context may be unfamiliar to an outsider. It could also be argued that the literacies demanded by particular subjects or disciplines may initially be unrecognisable to someone unfamiliar with the subject context. Such was the case when Patsy Norton started working with Phil Jackes in his Graphics classroom. Her expertise was in literacy strategies more traditionally associated with reading and writing. His expertise was in a subject characterised strongly by visual text and instructional commands that initiated learning behaviours by students who seemed to be apprentices to the master craftsman. It was a classroom context and relationship between teachers that merited documentation.

The purpose of this paper, given this background, is to focus on the challenge of disciplinary literacy and to examine the literacy demands of a school's junior secondary Graphics classroom. Three sections to the paper target this purpose. Section one briefly explores the nature of discipline literacy in the secondary school context. Goldman (2012) has suggested that research into secondary school subject literacies has mainly focused on comprehension and vocabulary rather than the literacy practices that support the work of the discipline. Hence this exploration of theory considers briefly both what is familiarly known as content area literacy as well as disciplinary literacy to support reader understanding of how these differ. Section two presents explicit detail of what discipline literacy looks like in the school's junior secondary Graphics program. A tabular display of the subject-specific literacy practices is provided and this is supported by an elaboration of the categories as well as an example of a student's assessment task. Section three presents the conclusion with an emphasis on the need to develop readiness for future study.

Understanding discipline literacy

Subject-specific contexts in secondary school challenge students to be competent in interpreting and constructing a variety of texts peculiar to each subject. The assumption in these subjects, such as Mathematics, Geography or Graphics, is that texts can be 'any configuration of signs that provide a potential for meaning' (Smagorinsky, 2001, p. 137). Students must be familiar with subject-specific vocabulary or terminology, protocols or traditions, as well as visual texts such as diagrams, designs or images. These are features representing the technical or disciplinary literacy (Brozo, Moorman, Meyer, & Stewart, 2013; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008, 2012) characteristic of the subject discourse.

In addition, any intention of continuing with a degree of success from junior to senior secondary study in a discipline requires fluency in interpreting and communicating knowledge in the subject context (Moje, 2008). Disciplinary literacy--as we have come to know it--was a 'relative newcomer' (Hynd-Shahahan, 2013, p. 93) in the early 1990s, whereas content area literacy can be traced historically to a focus in the early 20th century on study skills and the introduction of cognitive strategies for reading subject-specific textbooks in the 1970s (Johnson, Watson, Delahunty, McSwiggen, & Smith, 2011). The latter approach to content area reading has been a familiar part of the education scenery in Queensland since the early 1980s, due to its state-wide promotion in the form of an in-service program, Learning to Learn through Reading (LTLTR), implemented by the state education department. This approach was based on Morris and Stewart-Dore's (1984) Effective Reading in the Content Areas (ERICA) Model.

Today, however, there is some debate amongst theorists (e.g., Faggella-Luby, Graner, Deshler, & Drew, 2012; Johnson et al. …

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