Literacy is commonly known quite simply as the ability to read and write. Many parents and even educators think of literacy as a skill that a student learns in Reading and Language Arts. This is a problem in education because literacy skills are needed in every single subject area. Literacy no longer applies to just Reading and Writing. There is not a content area subject that does not involve literacy, so why isn’t it taught in every class?
Ponder this quote from Richard Vaca, author of Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum. “Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives.” Technology has made reading and writing the most important two skills needed with computers, internet, smart phones, and tablets. In all aspects of their lives, young people need constant literacy training to increase their success.
Content area teachers in History, Science, Math, and Art might be asking themselves, “How do I include literacy skills in my classroom instruction?” They might also include, “I am not a Language Arts teacher, so why must I teach it?” It’s difficult enough for students to focus only on the one content area we are required to teach, however, including proper literacy instruction will improve the student’s comprehension of any subject.
Quite a number of secondary school teachers use lectures to pass along the information they want to provide to their students. Think about how tough it is even as adults to concentrate long enough during lectures to fully grasp what the presenter is trying to get across. Our attention spans seem to be getting shorter and shorter, but lectures appear to be getting longer and longer. My grandfather always said that if a person cannot get their point across in a few minutes, then they are just talking to hear themselves speak. How do we expect a student to learn any content area subject by mostly listening to an adult speak about it? They need more than that.
Include research into lesson plans. Have the students discover the information that they need by having them search for it online or in actual books instead of it being force-fed on them in such a way that they just have to regurgitate it later on to receive a good grade. Students can do the research, and later present it to the class as the instructor can just be there to guide them along the way. The best classrooms seem to be the ones where the teacher behaves like the train conductor, bringing the students along for the lessons as they learn and discover. Literacy works cooperatively with this culture in the classroom. Students acquire the knowledge needed by using their literacy skills then proceed to explain it to the others, again, using their literacy skills.
When was the last time your students had sore hands from having to write or type so much? And I do not mean from having to take notes from a classroom lecture. It is impossible to be writing thoughts of your own and not be actively thinking. But it is very easy to be taking notes in class without having to think one bit.
In closing, students need to be taught pre-reading, during reading, and after reading strategies by all content area teachers. They have to be shown the way to make predictions and connections with the text. Educators should have plenty of graphic organizers for the students to dissect the text and then put into their own words. Even something as simple as having each student have a classroom journal in every content area where they could write down the questions they still have about the material would help them immensely with their literacy achievement. It might seem like extra work for the subject area teachers, but it will pay off with the students attaining more thorough knowledge of the content.