Disciplinary Literacy was a focus of a recent staff development in our district. The high school English-Language Arts team partnered with two members of our middle school ELA team to model reading strategies for our colleagues in disciplines outside ELA. Teaming up with my colleagues to prepare and then teaching alongside them, teaching our peers in our own school district, was a rich learning experience.
Our presentation was driven by thinking strategies and reading purposes as outlined by Cris Tovani, a reading specialist and high school English teacher. We added a few reading strategies used in our classrooms from Kelly Gallagher’s book Deeper Reading and we created an engaging presentation.
We broke up into three different groups, presenters and learners. My colleague and I presented to our colleagues from the Science department. We modeled several different learning strategies in a variety of situations.
First, we modeled how we utilize the strategies as teachers. Next, we gave our learners the opportunity to apply reading strategies to a short excerpt from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations; we modeled how to use multiple draft reads, sharpening focus with each read. Finally, my colleague took on the role of student and modeled what it would look like for a reader of an unfamiliar text — in this case a section of a Biology textbook — to apply the reading strategies we had been modeling.
Our colleagues from the Science department were intrigued by the reading strategies and recognized the significance of Disciplinary Literacy. Every member of the high school Science department agreed to try a reading strategy and invited my colleague and I in to observe and provide feedback. The department leader went so far as to get permission from administration to have substitutes available for my colleague and I so we would be free for an entire school day to observe and follow-up with feed back.
This was a tremendous learning experience for me. The first time in 18 years of teaching where I have spent engaging, educational time in a classroom of another discipline. The observation and follow-up conversations were eye opening for everyone and we all benefited deeply.
My ELA colleagues and I have invited our science colleagues into our classrooms to observe us, how we apply reading strategies, and provide feedback to us. A few have taken us up on this so far and I have a feeling it will happen again.
Our district Curriculum Coordinator provided the encouragement, time, and space to make this happen. As I told one of the science teachers, if other disciplines can spend 10 minutes a class period on a reading strategy, four times a week, what a difference this would make in school-wide literacy. Just think of the confidence and competence our students would be equipped with as they left our high schools for work or further education.
I admire my colleagues and am grateful to work with many educators who are driven to do what’s best for kids. We continue to find ways to give all of our students the best opportunities to be successful now and tomorrow.