Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Four Components to Promote Literacy Engagement in Subject Matter Disciplines

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Four Components to Promote Literacy Engagement in Subject Matter Disciplines

Article excerpt

Teachers and teacher educators share a common goal-they all strive to help their students become knowledgeable, lifelong learners. Language arts teachers want their students to become proficient readers and writers, to appreciate and understand quality works of literature, and to apply their literacy skills with all texts. Social studies teachers want their students to read and write like historians, to value primary sources of information, and to use this knowledge to understand the world around them and how we got here. Science teachers want their students to read and write like scientists, to understand how the world works, and to question things around them. Similarly, mathematics teachers want their students to read and write like mathematicians, develop skill in manipulating numerical data, and learn problem-solving skills applicable in the real world.

The literacy tools people use for communicating and learning constitute a thread common to learning in all disciplines. Middle grades students must be able to read, write, listen, speak, view, and visually represent information in every content area. With the volume of information students must learn, teachers cannot possibly tell them or read to them everything they need to know. They must, instead, help their students become self-directed learners, enabling them to take control of their own learning-a highly motivating experience essential for knowledge building (Guthrie, 2007).

We understand that literacy is important for learning, but we also know that implementing literacy strategies for supporting learning in the content areas is a difficult and complex undertaking. Middle grades teachers face many constraints that hinder the use of literacy practices as tools for learning. With a predominant focus on content knowledge and so little time in which to teach, many content area teachers are reluctant to invest in instructional practices that appear to be too time consuming or unrelated to their immediate purpose. For these reasons, we highlight four essential literacy components that we believe can be realistically implemented by all teachers who work with young adolescents. While there are other literacy components, we selected choice, accessibility, rereading, and supported reading with the hope that teachers can readily consider how such facets of instruction can be used in their programs (see Figure 1). We first provide a rationale for these four instructional components and then offer suggested activities that illustrate the components. In this article, we show how these activities can be applied in language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics classes.


It is important to allow students to make choices in school, and it is for this reason that we include choice as a critical literacy component that can be realistically addressed in all middle grades classrooms. Studies concerning students' reading preferences have shown a disconnect between in-school and out-of-school reading (Ivey & Broaddus, 2001; Worthy, Moorman, & Turner, 1999). Such studies are the basis for reexamining the purposes for the required readings included in the curriculum and for considering the role of student choice in academic programs.

Research also has shown the importance of choices for middle grades learners in different instructional settings. For example, Triplett (2004) found that one important feature of the tutoring program for a struggling sixth grade reader was the opportunity to make his own choices about what to read. This feature, among others, created a "context for success" (p. 221) that provided the reader with a positive reading experience. In a study of another tutoring program, Friedland (2005) noted that student engagement increased when the tutors were responsive to the needs of the students, and such responsiveness involved honoring student choice. In a study that investigated a literaturebased developmental reading program (Stewart, Paradis, & Ross, 1996), the researchers included choice as one of several important program facets that led to reading improvement. …

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