What Is Disciplinary Literacy?
How Does Disciplinary Literacy Differ from Content-Area Literacy?
While the early grades of learning to read include a great deal of narrative text, children also encounter expository texts for learning in the content-area curriculum. As students move through the grades, they learn to use a general set of strategies, such as predicting, questioning, and summarizing a text, to support their comprehension and response to texts across the curriculum. These strategies are often used as procedures for study skills to learn and retain content information. Content-area literacy, therefore, refers to a basic set of strategies for reading and responding to texts with little differentiation among the content-area subjects. For example, students may learn to use the same techniques for determining important information, making inferences, asking questions, and summarizing in science, social studies, and math. The reading strategies are the same across subject areas, only the content differs.
In contrast, disciplinary literacy focuses on teaching students the differences among the various texts used in different disciplines and the specialized reading practices required for comprehension and critical analysis of ideas within each. Some of these differences include specialized vocabulary, types of language used to communicate ideas, text structures, <p><strong>text structure</strong><br /> Text structure refers to the organizational pattern authors use to present their ideas and to clarify their purpose for writing. Narrative text has one basic structure that includes setting, characters, problem/conflict, plot/episodes to resolve the conflict, and resolution. Expository text often uses one or more text structural patterns to present information. The most common structures for exposition are: 1) description (main idea and details); 2) sequence; 3) compare/contrast; 4) cause/effect; and problem/solution. Identifying the text structure will assist readers in understanding important ideas during and after reading.</p> text features <p><strong>text features</strong><br /> Texts, especially expository texts often used in the disciplines, may contain specific cues that highlight or clarify ideas presented in the body of the text. The purpose of specific text features is to support readers in reading and understanding the text. They may emphasize important words through the use of different font types and sizes, bolded words, or italics. They may illustrate key ideas with visuals such as diagrams, charts, maps, or photographs. Or they may provide support in locating text information, including table of contents, index, or glossary. Recognizing and using text features before, during, and after reading will enhance comprehension of text ideas.</p> (e.g., boldface headings and vocabulary, diagrams, charts, photographs, captions), and sources of information within and across disciplines.
Disciplinary literacy teaches students to move beyond the use of general reading strategies toward the use of specialized reading practices for making sense of the unique texts found within each discipline. Each discipline represents knowledge and the ways of producing and communicating that knowledge differently, resulting in a different approach to reading. For example, when reading a literary text, there is a range of interpretations a reader can make based on background knowledge and experiences. When reading a history text or document, interpretations are made based on a consideration of the source and context for the information as well as a corroboration with other sources. Science and math texts present information with one “truth” or interpretation based on accepted methods for using evidence. In essence, the focus is on teaching students ways of thinking about texts by developing reader identities for each discipline—to become, for example, expert readers by reading like a historian, a scientist, a mathematician.
It should be noted that teachers often combine the strategies of content-area literacy and disciplinary literacy to support students as they read and respond to texts in different disciplines.