Language literacy has for a long time been rigidly defined as the ability to read and write. However, Cervetti (2021) observes that it also encompasses a learner’s ability to think and discuss. The learning process is transforming from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered one. The roles of the teacher and the student are changing. Students are required to engage themselves in discussions to find solutions and gain knowledge from one another. On the other hand, teachers are expected to facilitate such discussions and offer guidance whenever it is necessary. Learners can no longer play a passive role under the new system. Language literacy is critical in different disciplinary fields because it enables possible for students to engage themselves in discussions to solve problems in mathematics, sciences, and other disciplines. The aim of the study is to reflect on my learning of major themes of adolescent literary, content and disciplinary literacy, language and linguistic diversity, and literacy instruction.
I have just received my undergraduate degree in May 2021 in social sciences and started my master’s degree in teaching this fall. I have no teaching experience, whereas most of those in the class are experienced teachers and educators. Between the readings, the discussions in each class with my peers and the professor, I am absorbing an understanding of literacy in teaching in the United States (K-12 grades). Through reading and engaging with my peers, I intend to achieve growth in this new field. The main frustration has been my lack of experience, but through the support of my experienced classmates and the teachers, I am already making an impressive progress.
Adolescent literacy involves the ability of adolescents to read, write, and engage in critical thinking and discussions in a classroom setting. Zygouris-Coe (2014) explains that it is important for a teacher to understand best practices in teaching disciplinary language and literacy practices to adolescents, especially secondary school students. Based on our class discussions, it is evident that an effective strategy for teaching adolescent literacy takes five basic steps. The teacher has to understand the audience, specifically focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of each learner. Learners should then be actively involved in the learning process through critical thinking and debates. The learners should be provided with materials, especially the relevant books to facilitate student-based research. The teacher should organize these learners into groups where one’s weakness can be overcome by the strengths of peers. The teacher should then find and assist struggling learners. As shown in figure 1 below, adolescent learners should think, reflect, and express themselves in a classroom setting.
Content and Disciplinary Literacy
It is important to understand both the content and disciplinary literacy and their relevance to learners in a modern-day classroom setting. According to Shanahan and Shanahan (2012), “Content area literacy focuses on study skills that can be used to help students learn from subject matter specific texts, while disciplinary literacy, in contrast, is an emphasis on the knowledge and abilities possessed by those who create, communicate, and use knowledge within the disciplines” (p. 8). The authors further explain that while content literacy focuses on techniques necessary for a novice to make sense of a given text, disciplinary literacy focuses on unique tools used by experts in a given discipline to engage in academic activities in that field. Making the distinction between the two is important in defining the approach that learners and educators should take in a classroom setting. Teachers will use disciplinary literacy to assist their students to acquire knowledge while students need content literacy to gain the knowledge.
It is important to note that language and literacy function differently in different disciplinary fields. According to Alvermann et al. (2012), while sciences and mathematics classes may not emphasize fluency in spoken English, they require a learner to have unique mastery skills of the formulas and methods of calculation and interpretation. On the other hand, an English class will require the learner to be skilled in reading, writing, and speaking. As such, it is easy for ESL students to excel in science classes but struggle in languages.
Language and Linguistic Diversity
In the short YouTube video clip Building a Belonging Classroom, the director has successfully demonstrated the desire of learners to belong (Edutopia, 2019). In a highly diversified learning environment, teachers should find common interests that will emphasize the need for unity, making racial, gender, or religious differences irrelevant. Cervetti (2021) explains that language use may define one’s identity. In our class, it is possible to identify ESLs from ENLs based on their accents. Language use can also help in defining the community to which one belongs in the United States. I have noticed that specific slung are common among the people living in the ghetto. Language and linguistic diversity play a critical role in the school. While it may help in defining one’s identity, it also reaffirms the uniqueness of every learner and the need for students to actively engage and discuss academic problems as a way of learning. Outside of a school setting, language helps students to communicate effectively with members of society.
Linguistic diversity can be represented in my content area when learning about cultural practices and beliefs of peers and how they influence their learning behavior. Brozo (2017) explains that it is common for teachers to ignore the impact of culture on students’ ability to embrace new learning methods. For instance, a section of Muslims strongly discourages the physical interaction of male and female learners. When the Taliban took over the leadership of Afghanistan, one of the first decisions it made in less than two months in power was the introduction of gender-segregated universities. I believe that it may take a while for an Afghan student, who believes in such strict Islamic rules, to adapt to American practices and fully embrace the need for effective student engagement, irrespective of their gender.
Teachers should be able to leverage students’ language and linguistic diversity to support learning. In our class discussions, it emerged that there are challenges unique to ESL students. The problem arises when such unique challenges are viewed as an impediment to the learning process or used against the affected students (Zygouris-Coe, 2014). It is the responsibility of the teacher to understand the problems and how they affect each learner in a unique way. Then a solution, based on the analysis of each student, should be developed. One of the best strategies that a learned through my experience with my peers in this class is to engage other learners. Fellow students are in a good position to help colleagues overcome their unique challenges.
Characteristics of a learner have a major influence on literacy practices and proficiency. Factors such as metacognitive and critical thinking, socio-cultural background, motivation, and identity all define the approach of learning that a student is willing and ready to embrace (Alvermann et al., 2012). I have noticed a pattern where learners prefer being in groups they identify with based on their gender, religion, or race, as opposed to learning needs. Such a rigid mindset might affect the learning process, especially when people who share the same weaknesses and strengths find themselves in the same groups. One’s socio-cultural background should not be allowed to impede their ability to interact and engage with peers in a classroom setting.
Learners’ ability to master skills in reading, writing, talking, reflecting on facts and concepts, and engaging in collaborative academic work depends on literacy instructions. In the video clip The Power of Literacy: Read, Write, Think, Discuss-Disciplinary Literacy, there is a detailed discussion of the engagement model when developing literacy instructions (Fairfax Network, 2017). It is a major shift from the traditional model where learning would be teacher-centered and instruction-based. In this new model, teachers plan instructions that learners would then use to guide their reading, writing, thinking, and discussing content. The presence of the teacher in the classroom is meant to ensure that the literacy instructions developed are being effectively implemented to achieve the intended goal (Rainey et al., 2017). It makes a radical shift from the traditional approach where students play a passive role of listening and taking notes to an active role where they take part in finding solutions to problems presented to them.
The concept of language literacy is changing because of the transformation witnessed in the modern-day classroom setting. Instead of the teacher-centered approach, learning is currently centered on learners. As such, language literacy goes beyond reading and writing to include critical thinking and student engagement. Leaders have to be actively involved in finding solutions and acquiring new knowledge in the classroom.
Alvermann, D., Gillis, V., & Phelps, S. (2012). Content area reading and literacy: Succeeding in today’s diverse classrooms. Pearson Education.
Brozo, G. (2017). Disciplinary and content literacy for today’s adolescents – Honoring diversity (6th ed.). Guilford Publications.
Cervetti, G. (2021). Science-literacy integration: Content-area literacy or disciplinary literacy? Research & Policy, 98(6), 340-351.
Edutopia. (2019). Building a belonging classroom [Video]. YouTube.
Fairfax Network. (2017). The power of literacy: Read, write, think, discuss- disciplinary literacy [Video]. YouTube.
Rainey, E., Maher, B., Coupland, D., Franchi, R., & Moje, E. (2017). But what does it look like? Illustrations of disciplinary literacy teaching in two content areas. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 61(4), 371-379.
Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2012). What is disciplinary literacy and why does it matter? Topics in Language Disorders, 32(1), 7-18.
Zygouris-Coe, V. (2014). Teaching discipline-specific literacies in grades 6-12: Preparing students for college, career, and workforce demands. Routledge.