Academic journal article English Journal

What the Hunger Games Can Teach Us about Disciplinary Literacy

Academic journal article English Journal

What the Hunger Games Can Teach Us about Disciplinary Literacy

Article excerpt

Introduction: An Entry Point to Disciplinary Literacy

My first exposure to disciplinary lit- eracy occurred when I was a middle school teacher in North Texas. Our principal at the time was interested in interdisciplinary, cross-curricular units to help students connect their learning across subjects, and we worked in teams with a science, math, social studies, and language arts teacher to develop mean- ingful learning experiences for that purpose. This was a complex endeavor with few exemplars to light the way; some of our staff resisted leaving the safe cocoon of their content and working with others. Efforts were exacerbated by curricular standards that did not always blend so seamlessly together. We initially tried to combine social studies and English for our unit drawn from a core text or novel, but we were limited by resources. For example, while the eighth-grade social studies standards (TEA) included American history from the early colonial period through Reconstruction, we had no available young adult books in class sets for students on our teams to use. Those novels we did have were diffi- cult to synthesize with the other main content areas because they were either rooted in a historical pe- riod our students were not required to study, or they were so contemporary it was difficult to conceive of opportunities for math and science to get taught.

In the end, rather than having students read a novel unrelated to what they were learning in their history class, we instead created an end-of-the-year exploration of cola companies, their products, and how they targeted young people as consumers. We received a small grant to support the "Soda Pa- parazzi" project, which offset materials, and the team teachers and I set about connecting our con- tent to a larger idea. In their history class, students explored the development of the Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper companies; in science, students mea- sured and blended a variety of flavors to produce a signature drink that could be mass-produced for taste tests. The math teacher coordinated market research questions and oversaw a schoolwide taste test; students later crunched the numbers to deter- mine which of the drinks were enjoyed most. In my English classroom, students viewed and critiqued advertisements and considered which they liked best, based on the rhetorical devices employed to sway consumers' opinions. They then wrote and produced advertisements that we asked taste-testers to watch and evaluate as a part of the market re- search data students were collecting. Points were tallied for audience favorites both in the taste and advertising appeal realm, and we awarded prizes to the winners, ending the school year exhausted but excited about our completed project.

Where We Are Today: Enlarging Literacy in the Age of Testing and Standards

It is important to note that such a project requires a certain level of flexibility-on the part of teachers, students, and administrators not to mention a mal- leable curriculum-to develop and execute such a complex interdisciplinary unit of study. In the years since I took part in the Soda Paparazzi project, we have witnessed less flexibility in schools in my local community. State standards and high-stakes tests have pushed creativity out of many schools al- together. Funding has tightened to the point that most districts in our state have set aside teaming, which has decreased the opportunity for teachers to even consider cross-disciplinary studies regardless of its chance to help students see that learning in one class overlaps with others. School leaders and teachers alike voice concerns about "covering the curriculum" rather than discussing ways to deepen students' understandings of the various contents and helping match learning in schools to the in- terests students carry with them as they move from one departmentalized classroom to another.

Disciplinary literacy research (Moje) sug- gests that our efforts to reinforce literacy across the school day or encourage content-area teachers to use reading strategies as a regular part of their teach- ing practice has "neither been widely accepted by teachers in the disciplines nor particularly effective in raising reading achievement on a broad scale" (Shanahan and Shanahan 57). …

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