Academic journal article English Journal

Nonfiction and Interdisciplinary Inquiry: Multimodal Learning in English and Biology

Academic journal article English Journal

Nonfiction and Interdisciplinary Inquiry: Multimodal Learning in English and Biology

Article excerpt

Often educators find themselves struggling with the amount of information they must cover within their content areas, leaving little time or space in their curriculum to collaborate with others. This lack of collaboration relates to the immense pressure felt by teachers to prepare students for state testing, as well as the lack of time to meet with other teachers, especially those teaching other subject areas. While these barriers can seem overwhelming and discouraging, they are not absolute and can be overcome by encouraging administrators to incorporate some in-common planning times into the schedule throughout the week or during professional development days. In particular, interdisciplinary instruction requires this kind of collaborative planning to enhance the connections students will make between subject areas and their relation to real-life encounters.

This integration of subject areas benefits both teachers and students, in that it is easier for students to see and make tangible connections between subjects, while teachers are building on one another's ideas making them more focused, engaging, and supported. Research in comprehension shows that students do not learn or retain content effectively when content is taught in isolation. This is particularly true of reading comprehension because, as William Kintsch asserts, readers' prior knowledge is a key factor in determining whether meaning will be made from a text. "To learn more effectively, we need hooks in prior knowledge, long-term memory, or personal experience on which to hang the information to be learned .... It is not enough that a hook in longterm memory is available-it must also be used" (330). Therefore, students who have these "hooks" are much more likely to understand and be able to interact meaningfully with texts. Central to effective instruction are the literacy skills that multiple subject-area teachers employ: the reading, writing, and speaking about texts.

If students do not come with "ready-made" hooks in prior knowledge, it is the job of educators to construct them, building prior knowledge so that new content can be integrated. Position statements and research in adolescent literacy recommend the use of nonfiction in English classrooms (Biancarosa and Snow 4; IRA 12). IRA updated Adolescent Literacy: A Position Statement last year and reiterated that adolescents deserve "content area teachers who provide instruction in the multiple literacy strategies" and "deserve access to and instruction with multimodal, multiple texts" (2). Similarly, Reading Next identifies elements of effective adolescent literacy programs, calling for "language arts teachers using content-area texts and content-area teachers providing instruction and practice in reading and writing skills specific to their subject area" (Biancarosa and Snow 4). Supporting this stance, Kathryn H. Au acknowledges that "by high school, many students of diverse backgrounds are reading and writing far below grade-level expectations. These students need the boost provided when all teachers emphasize the importance of literacy and teach accordingly" (537).

Long-time advocates of content-area inquiry and critical thinking, science teachers who collaborate with English language arts teachers can promote such literacy practices across the high school curriculum. Increasingly, high-quality and award-winning books are available to supplement and extend the traditional science textbooks (Bull and Dupuis 36). The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publishes its annual Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, which represent excellent literature that both assist students with building literacy skills and developing science content knowledge. Additionally, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) awards its Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and Great Graphic Novels for Teens annually, offering additional high-quality nonfiction titles-many of which can supplement and extend science content. …

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