Disciplinary Literacy and the Common Core State Standards

Top Lang Disorders
                                                 Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 35–50
                                                 Copyright c 2012 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Disciplinary Literacy and the
Common Core State Standards
   Vassiliki (“Vicky”) I. Zygouris-Coe

    The purpose of this article is to present a perspective on disciplinary literacy and the Common Core
    State Standards based on the argument that disciplinary literacy is embedded in the standards. The
    article highlights possibilities and challenges associated with national efforts to prepare students
    for success in college and the workforce. Information is presented on the basis of a selected
    literature review of disciplinary literacy, adolescent literacy, student achievement, and the common
    core standards. Instructional strategies also are presented for developing students’ disciplinary
    literacy and meeting common core goals. In the article, I call for collaborative inquiry and shared
    accountability among stakeholders to ensure that all students’ literacy and learning needs are
    met in a new era of educational reform. Key words: adolescent literacy, college and career
    preparation, common core state standards, disciplinary literacy, educational reform

NEED FOR ADVANCED LITERACY                                2010). Although U.S. students in Grade 4
INSTRUCTION AND IMPROVED                                  score among the top in the world, by Grade
STUDENT ATTAINMENT                                        10 they place close to the bottom among de-
                                                          veloped nations (Organisation for Economic
   Literacy is necessary for success in schools,          Co-Operation and Development, 2006, 2008).
colleges, career, and life. Because of a global           Some projections estimate that 63% of pro-
information-intensive society, the globaliza-             jected job openings for 2018 will require at
tion of labor markets, economic demands,                  least some college education. This presents
and the increasing demands of a technolog-                a challenge, given evidence that 15-year-old
ically advanced workforce, literacy has been              Americans rank 14th among developing na-
viewed as a main factor for societies’ financial           tions in reading and that low literacy skills
growth and success. In order for the United               are associated with low levels of employment,
States to remain competitive with other highly            high rates of remedial course work (e.g., 42%
developed countries and for young Americans               of college students take remedial work in read-
to succeed in the global workplace, there has             ing and mathematics), and increased drop-out
to be an improvement in the literacy skills               rates (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2011;
of middle and high school students (Dando,                U.S. Department of Education, 2007).
                                                             According to the National Assessment of
                                                          Educational Progress, students’ literacy per-
                                                          formance from 8th to 10th grades has
Author Affiliation: College of Education, School of        remained low over the past four decades (Lee
Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, University of         & Spratley, 2010; National Center for Educa-
Central Florida, Orlando.
                                                          tion Statistics, 2010). Results from The Na-
The author has disclosed no significant relationships      tion’s Report Card: Grade 12 Reading and
with, or financial interest in, any commercial compa-
nies pertaining to this article.
                                                          Mathematics 2009 National and Pilot State
                                                          Results report (National Center for Education
Corresponding Author: Vassiliki (“Vicky”) I.
Zygouris-Coe, PhD, College of Education, School
                                                          Statistics, 2010) show that 1 in 5 low-income
of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, University of      and minority students is proficient in read-
Central Florida, 4000 Central Florida Blvd, Orlando,      ing and about 1 in 10 low-income students
FL 32816 (Vassiliki.Zygouris-Coe@ucf.edu).
                                                          is proficient in mathematics. Reading ability
DOI: 10.1097/TLD.0b013e31824561a2                         is a key predictor of achievement in science

and mathematics (American College Testing,            Because the United States is in the midst of
2006), and for the United States to thrive finan-   an adolescent literacy crisis, what are possi-
cially and culturally in a competitive global      ble avenues for emerging from it? The Com-
economy, American youth will have to pos-          mon Core State Standards (CCSS, 2010) ini-
sess advanced literacy, mathematics, and sci-      tiative is viewed by many as a possible cata-
ence skills (Alliance for Excellent Education,     lyst for improving the educational attainment
2011; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).                (especially in mathematics and science) of
   Several works have redirected the atten-        adolescents in the United States. The CCSS
tion of the public to the need for compre-         propose a leveling of the field in academic
hensive improvement in adolescent literacy.        expectations by back mapping college and
These include the report, A Nation at Risk         career readiness standards that students will
(National Commission on Excellence in Edu-         build through Grade 12 by starting in kinder-
cation, 1983); the No Child Left Behind (U.S.      garten. The standards position literacy and the
Department of Education, Office of Elemen-          reading of complex text in the “heart” of each
tary and Secondary Education, 2002) Act of         content area. The hypothesis of disciplinary
2001; the Reading Next report (Biancarosa          literacy approaches is that, by incorporating
& Snow, 2004, 2006); position statements           effective, subject-specific literacy strategies,
issued by the National Council for Teach-          skills, and practices into content instruction,
ers of English (2004); the report commis-          students will develop relevant content and lit-
sioned by the National Reading Conference          eracy skills in tandem (Shanahan & Shanahan,
(Alvermann, 2001); the report issued by Amer-      2008). Adoption of the CCSS implies a disci-
ican College Testing (2006); reports pub-          plinary literacy learning framework; that is, all
lished by the Alliance for Excellent Education     teachers, including teachers of history/social
(2011; Kamil, 2003); and reports by Strick-        studies, science, mathematics, and technical
land and Alvermann (2004) and the National         disciplines, will be addressing 10 reading and
Institute for Literacy (2007). Some evidence       10 writing standards through disciplinary in-
supports a conclusion that the national em-        struction in their respective subject areas. Im-
phasis of the 1990s on improving young chil-       plementation of disciplinary literacy and CCSS
dren’s reading achievement produced growth         guidelines has the potential to improve the
in early reading scores. For example, re-          content and literacy knowledge, skills, and
ports indicate that 9-year-olds in the United      performance of adolescents.
States are reading much better than they were         In this article, I argue that using the CCSS
12–15 years ago (Perle, Grigg, & Donahue,          and teaching for disciplinary literacy will help
2005).                                             students develop specialized knowledge and
   Unfortunately, early reading improvement        skills that are relevant to each subject area,
does not guarantee that students will be able      to college and career preparation, and to the
to read and comprehend the specialized texts       world. The CCSS are organized in a disci-
of English language arts, science, mathemat-       plinary fashion, and disciplinary literacy con-
ics, and other content areas (Lee, Grigg, &        siderations are central to the CCSS. Con-
Donahue, 2007; Perle et al., 2005). The as-        tent area teachers will not be able to im-
sumption that secondary students “already          plement disciplinary literacy without under-
know how to read” has contributed to years         standing the responsibility the CCSS place on
of adolescent literacy neglect by policymakers     every area teacher to develop students’ read-
and researchers and limited literacy instruc-      ing, writing, thinking, speaking, and listening
tion beyond Grade 3 (Biancarosa & Snow,            skills that are unique to, and necessary for,
2004; Graham & Hebert, 2010; Graham &              learning in each subject area.
Perin, 2007; National Assessment of Educa-            The purpose of this article is to present the
tional Progress, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009; Snow      case for the complementary relationship be-
& Biancarosa, 2003).                               tween DL and the CCSS and for the potential
Disciplinary Literacy and the Common Core State Standards             37

of disciplinary literacy and the CCSS to work     struction, however, many content area teach-
in tandem to develop students’ content and        ers have resisted incorporating reading in-
literacy knowledge in each discipline, prepar-    struction in their classes due to lack of time
ing them for college and careers. A secondary     and belief that literacy skills are unrelated
purpose is to describe the possibilities and      to their content (Alvermann & Moore, 1991;
challenges associated with disciplinary liter-    O’Brien & Stewart, 1990; O’Brien, Stewart,
acy and CCSS implementation.                      & Moje, 1995; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).
                                                  Many secondary teachers assume that stu-
DISCIPLINARY LITERACY                             dents should arrive in secondary grades hav-
                                                  ing mastered the necessary reading and com-
   The landmark report by the National Com-       prehension skills. Even when they realize that
mission on Teaching and America’s Future          not all students are able to read the text of
(1996), What Matters Most: Teaching for           the disciplines, they do not assume the read-
America’s Future, identified teachers’ knowl-      ing instruction responsibility because of their
edge as the key factor in student achievement.    perceived need to cover more content and
Other reports since then have focused on the      their lack of reading expertise (O’Brien et al.,
same relationship (e.g., U.S. Department of       1995).
Education, 2007) and have highlighted the            Generalized approaches to literacy devel-
need for placing a highly qualified teacher in     opment in the content areas, whereby con-
every classroom. A highly qualified secondary      tent area teachers “sprinkle” their content
school teacher is expected to be equipped         with generic literacy strategies, have neither
not only with content knowledge and peda-         been received nor implemented well, nor
gogy but also with knowledge about how to         have they improved the ever-alarming crisis
support the development of students’ literacy     in adolescent literacy (Phelps, 2005; Shana-
skills across the content areas (Biancarosa &     han & Shanahan, 2008). Many content area
Snow, 2004).                                      teachers have viewed this approach as infring-
   Adolescents face many challenges for           ing on their content plans and schedule in-
achieving high levels of literacy, including      stead of as a means to supporting and assess-
the literacy demands of content area texts,       ing student learning of the content (O’Brien
literacy demands in a fast-changing world,        et al., 1995; O’Brien & Stewart, 1992). Much
advanced examinations, and a disconnect           of content area literacy instruction has fo-
between in-school culture and out-of-school       cused on generic literacy skills (e.g., summa-
culture (Moje, 2002). That reading in the sec-    rizing, predicting, questioning), and instruc-
ondary grades is different from reading in the    tion sometimes does not extend beyond as-
early grades is supported not only by literacy    signing the reading and writing of content-
research, but also by the new CCSS. Accord-       specific texts (McConachie & Petrosky, 2010;
ing to Lee and Spratley (2010), 10th-grade stu-   Snow & Moje, 2010). Most importantly, the
dents in the United States score among the        reading in the content areas approaches does
lowest in the world, struggling with issues       not recognize the different demands of each
such as (a) engagement with reading (espe-        discipline (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012).
cially expository text) and motivation to read,      Proponents of disciplinary literacy argue
(b) vocabulary, (c) comprehension, and (d)        that focusing on generalizable skills and abili-
self-regulating their comprehension.              ties, such as decoding, fluency, and basic com-
   Intervention research has shown that stu-      prehension strategies will not prepare stu-
dents can benefit by having reading in-            dents to deal with the complex literacy and
struction incorporated in their content areas     content demands of each discipline (Plaut,
(Anders & Guizzetti, 1996; Ivey, 1999; Moore,     2009; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008; Snow
Readance, & Rickelman, 1983). Despite the         & Moje, 2010). I also argue that general
benefits of content-area embedded reading in-      strategies are insufficient for coping with the

demands of new educational standards. As stu-      acy needs to be positioned as a discipline-
dents advance through grades, their literacy       specific process within each content area.
instruction should become increasingly more        Content area teachers need to teach students
complex and discipline-based and should            not only about their content area, but also
support students’ understanding of complex         how to read and understand from informa-
texts in each content area (Snow & Moje,           tional text (Snow & Biancarossa, 2004), espe-
2010). There is a need for specialized content-    cially in an era of educational reform. Further-
area instruction that allows students to de-       more, this instruction should be specific to
velop comprehension and knowledge within           the literacy expectations of each discipline.
the advanced content of the disciplines in the        Disciplinary literacy is prominently fea-
secondary grades (Bulgren, Deshler, & Lenz,        tured in the new CCSS. Also reflected in
2007; Guthrie, Wigfield, & Perencevich, 2004;       the CCSS is the view of content and liter-
Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008; Yore & Treagust,        acy knowledge developing in tandem (Shana-
2006), and the CCSS are most likely to be met      han & Shanahan, 2008). Content area teachers
if secondary teachers learn new strategies for     need to see that disciplinary literacy instruc-
promoting literacy practices specific to their      tion can facilitate, and not compete with, con-
disciplines.                                       tent learning (Hall, 2005). The CCSS convey
   Disciplinary literacy is built on the premise   the disciplinary literacy principle that each
that each subject area or discipline has a dis-    discipline has a specific approach to literacy
course community with its own language,            knowing and learning. They imply that con-
texts, and ways of knowing, doing, and com-        tent area teachers in secondary grades are
municating within a discipline (O’Brien, Moje,     best suited to teach reading in their respec-
& Stewart, 2001). It moves beyond the notion       tive disciplines because of their knowledge
of “every teacher is a reading teacher” and lit-   of the content and implicit knowledge of
eracy as an “add-on” set of generic strategies     the structure and language of their discipline
used to improve the reading and writing of         (Fang & Schleppegrell, 2008). For example,
subject area texts. Rather, it situates literacy   history teachers are best positioned to teach
as an integral part of content (Moje, 2008) so     students how to read and write about his-
that “literacy within the discipline” becomes      tory, just as English teachers are best suited
the goal of disciplinary literacy.                 to teach students how to read literature and
   Shanahan and Shanahan (2008, 2012) pro-         write literary analyses. Professional develop-
posed that disciplinary literacy, compris-         ment in disciplinary literacy can provide sec-
ing advanced literacy instruction embedded         ondary content area teachers with discipline-
within content-area classes, such as mathe-        specific strategies that will help students meet
matics, science, and social studies, should be     the literacy demands of each discipline, while
a focus of literacy efforts at middle and sec-     developing their content knowledge (Lee &
ondary school settings. Disciplinary literacy      Spratley, 2010).
“involves the use of reading, reasoning, in-          Moje (2008) suggests that disciplinary lit-
vestigating, speaking, and writing required        eracy instructional programs need to build
to learn and form complex content knowl-           skills, rather than just encourage content area
edge appropriate to a particular discipline”       teachers to apply literacy strategies to their
(McConachie & Petrosky, 2010, p. 16). Dis-         various disciplines. Many literacy strategies
ciplinary literacy highlights the complexity,      are not deeply penetrating enough and do not
literacy demands, and differentiated thinking,     equip teachers with literacy tools that repre-
skills, and strategies that characterize each      sent the uniqueness of the various disciplines
discipline. According to this approach, def-       (Moje, 2008; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).
initions of literacy in the secondary grades       Because of the distinctive manner in which
must be anchored in the specifics of individ-       each discipline arrives at constructing knowl-
ual disciplines. Within this framework, liter-     edge, literacy itself becomes a core aspect of
Disciplinary Literacy and the Common Core State Standards                39

disciplinary practice, instead of just a set of     history, or biology texts? If students do not
tools brought into the discipline to improve        have discipline-specific content and literacy
reading and writing of content-specific texts        knowledge and skills, will they be able to read
(Moje, 2008). This includes teaching students       and comprehend varied complex texts, know
to read complex texts in each content area.         how to identify the author, the audience, pur-
Textbooks are at the center of content area         pose, whether other sources support or con-
instruction, but many students have difficul-        tradict information, or whether information
ties reading the textbooks. Some teachers do        is credible, inaccurate, or biased? Will they be
not even use them because the textbook is           able to meet the new educational standards if
too complex for students. Teachers should           they do not have effective discipline-specific
play a role, therefore, in selecting relevant,      literacy skills? In order for students to be ready
meaningful, and complex texts, and they must        to face the literacy demands of college and ca-
learn how to engage students in learning more       reer, they will need to read many complex
about the content.                                  texts, learn how to use information as evi-
   Shanahan and Shanahan (2008) invited a           dence, present well-reasoned oral and written
panel of disciplinary experts (i.e., in chem-       arguments, and conduct synthesis and com-
istry, history, and mathematics) to discuss         parative evaluation of information.
how they approached reading discipline-
specific materials and identify challenges stu-      THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS
dents would face with reading such materials.
Participants varied in the way they read, in           In 2010, the Carnegie Council for Advanc-
what they considered to be challenges in the        ing Adolescent Literacy (2010) released a land-
text, and in how the texts should be taught.        mark report titled, Time to Act: An Agenda
In terms of discipline-specific strategies, for      for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for Col-
example, sourcing, contextualizing, identify-       lege and Career Success. This report arrived
ing arguments, and how the author portrays          at a pivotal time in education history. Also
events, are useful to history. In chemistry, sep-   in 2010, the National Governors Association
arating essential information from nonessen-        and the Council of Chief State School Offi-
tial information, visualizing, and thinking of      cers released the publication of the proposed
examples are some of the strategies teach-          new academic standards, CCSS, in English lan-
ers should teach. Explaining concepts, writ-        guage arts and mathematics (K–12). The pur-
ing equations, and illustrating data are some of    poses of CCSS are to improve U.S. educa-
the strategies that will help students read and     tional outcomes, standardize educational op-
comprehend text in mathematics. To achieve          portunity, and focus on fewer and more rigor-
change, national efforts must be expanded           ous standards that are internationally bench-
to support adolescent literacy development,         marked. The CCSS map the knowledge and
identify more advanced curriculum, and pro-         skills students should develop in grades K–
vide quality instruction to support older read-     12 that will adequately prepare them for the
ers’ literacy and discipline-specific knowledge      workforce and college careers.
and skills. There is also a need for all edu-          In English language arts, the CCSS place an
cators to come together, problem-solve, and         increased focus on expository text and mul-
collaboratively develop schoolwide plans that       tiple texts from the earliest grades, critical
will help facilitate the implementation of dis-     reading of text, disciplinary literacy in the up-
ciplinary literacy and CCSS guidelines.             per grades, the importance of text complex-
   Several pressing questions motivate this call    ity and text evidence, the value of canonical
to action. How can adolescents develop the          text, academic vocabulary, informational writ-
knowledge and thinking patterns of mathe-           ing (starting in kindergarten), and integration
matics, history, or biology if they do not know     of literacy in mathematics, history/social stud-
how to read and comprehend mathematics,             ies, science, and media/technology. In math-

ematics, the CCSS emphasize deep under-           ing, and language are also translated into lit-
standing and mastery of key critical topics at    eracy standards in history and social studies,
each grade level, a balance between concep-       science, and technical subjects. Standards for
tual understanding and increasing procedural      the development of writing target arguing and
fluency, and critical thinking and problem-        explaining. These genres account for 80% of
solving skills students will need to master       the writing focus of the later grades. There-
to be successful and internationally compet-      fore, emphasis should be placed on writing to
itive 21st-century thinkers. In science, stu-     argue, inform, and persuade using evidence
dents from the early grades are expected to       from text(s)—on the college and career readi-
write logical arguments based on evidence,        ness forms of writing. Standards increase in
provide sound reasoning, participate in short-    complexity from K to 12, helping to articu-
and long-term research, and present findings.      late what students need to know and be able
   Close reading is a focus of the CCSS           to do along this trajectory and assist with dif-
across grades and content areas. Students         ferentiation.
are expected to read closely to determine            The CCSS are designed to be rigor-
what the text says explicitly and implicitly      ous, clear, and specific (i.e., providing pre-
and cite specific evidence from text(s) when       cise details about the “what”), teachable,
writing or speaking to support conclusions        learnable, measurable, coherent, with lim-
drawn from one or multiple sources. These         ited repetition across grades, informed by
expectations become progressively more            other top-performing countries, evidence-
complex and require multiple sources/texts        based, aligned with college expectations, con-
as students move into the upper grades. In        sistent and clear, building upon existing state
this context, the standards focus on close        standards, and with rigorous content and ap-
reading, on explicit understanding of what a      plication of knowledge through higher order
text says and does not say, and on students’      skills (see http://www.corestandards.org).
ability to gather evidence from complex texts     The standards establish benchmarks for
to support their understanding. The CCSS          “what” all students must be able to read and
establish expectations for students to deter-     comprehend so they are ready for the types
mine word meanings, expand their basic and        of reading they will have to do in college and
specialized vocabulary, and prepare them for      the workforce by the end of high school. The
the literacy demands of the 21st century. The     core standards are not a curriculum. They out-
standards call for a “balanced diet” of reading   line a clear set of expectations of knowledge
fiction and nonfiction text, with an emphasis       and skills that students will need to succeed in
on students reading more nonfiction texts          higher education and employment. How the
to better prepare them for the types of text      standards are to be met is left up to the states,
they will read in college and in their future     school districts, principals, and educators.
careers. According to the standards, in the          But how will educators support students
fourth grade, students should be reading          with language disorders and other needs un-
equally from fiction and informational text;       der the CCSS initiative? The CCSS do not
in the eighth grade, 45% of text should be        define advanced work beyond the core nor
literary and 55% informational, and by 12th       the interventions needed for students below
grade, 30% literary and 70% informational.        grade level, and they do not provide guid-
   In elementary grades, informational texts      ance on the full range of support for English
occur primarily in the areas of science and       language learners (ELLs) and students with
social studies, and teachers use informational    special needs. Although the CCSS initiative
texts to help students learn about the world      is promising for stimulating higher level lit-
on an equal basis to literary text. In the high   eracy learning, there are many questions as-
school grades, the English language arts stan-    sociated with the CCSS that will guide edu-
dards for reading, writing, speaking, listen-     cators’ and policy makers’ discussions for the
Disciplinary Literacy and the Common Core State Standards                41

years to come. Will the CCSS bring about pos-       tion, knowledge, and experiences) and task
itive change on the teaching profession and         considerations (e.g., purpose and task com-
will they provide the support and empower-          plexity). States and districts will need to con-
ment necessary for teachers to succeed? Will        sider these components as they review exist-
the CCSS promote more implementation of             ing literacy assessments to provide data for
disciplinary literacy instructional practices es-   common core alignment, develop tools that
pecially in the upper grades? How will this         will help teachers assess literacy in each dis-
initiative help recruit, prepare, and sustain       cipline, identify discipline-specific materials
high-quality educators at the elementary- and       for assessing students’ reading abilities, and
secondary-grade levels?                             develop a model for a collaborative, cross-
   The core cognitive processes in the CCSS in-     disciplinary instruction of reading in the sec-
clude the following: precision and accuracy,        ondary grades.
problem formulation, communication, inter-             In the area of English language arts, states
pretation, and research. All of these cognitive     and districts will need to design rubrics that
processes are embedded from a young age             will help first to understand the three ele-
throughout the core, including social stud-         ments that interact to determine the complex-
ies, science, and technical subjects. The five       ity of texts (i.e., qualitative, quantitative, and
components of English language arts include         reader and task considerations), and second,
reading, writing, speaking, listening, and lan-     to assess qualitative measures of text complex-
guage; these components are to be incorpo-          ity and student comprehension. In addition,
rated in each content area and at each grade        they will need to provide assistance to teach-
level. The CCSS aim to help states, schools,        ers in all content areas on how to access, read,
and teachers focus their instruction on key         and comprehend texts of varied complexity.
cognitive skills and strategies students need
for college and the workforce—a goal that           Implications of the CCSS for
is also shared by disciplinary literacy learn-      professional development
ing guidelines, although the methods in Disci-         The CCSS should trigger a shift in teacher
plinary literacy emphasize discipline-specific       preparation and in-service education. English
approaches rather than a focus on general cog-      language arts and reading faculty are no
nitive processes.                                   longer the sole educators responsible for
                                                    literacy. Literacy is positioned at the core of
Implications of the CCSS for                        each content area and each teacher in every
student assessment                                  subject area at every grade level is responsible
   At present, 45 states have formally adopted      for students’ literacy. School districts will
the CCSS and have agreed to replace their           need to provide professional development
state tests with new assessments aligned with       for educators to help them know: (a) about
the CCSS. If implemented correctly, they will       the CCSS and the kinds of instructional, cur-
catapult U.S. education toward world-class          ricular, and pedagogical changes motivated
learning standards.                                 by the new standards; (b) how to assess
   The CCSS provide a three-part model for de-      performance tasks using rubrics; (c) how
termining text complexity that can inform as-       to create face-to-face and online artifacts to
sessment. The model includes analysis of the        assess performance; and (d) how to identify
following components: (1) qualitative dimen-        progress monitoring assessments for English
sions of text complexity (e.g., levels of mean-     language arts and mathematics by grade
ing or purpose, structure, clarity, language        level. All educators must be engaged in
conventionality, and knowledge demands);            collaborative inquiry concerning the imple-
(2) quantitative dimensions of text complex-        mentation of the standards and participate in
ity (e.g., word and sentence length, and text       designing rigorous curricula and assessments
cohesion); and (3) reader (e.g., reader motiva-     that will help all students succeed in schools

and beyond. In addition, districts should           acy actions such as analyzing, evaluating, and
develop pilot performance-based assessment          synthesizing.
programs that will collect and develop valid           As also supported by the CCSS, academic
and reliable performance assessments and            subject matter becomes progressively more
task-related resources that are aligned to the      complex and specialized across grade lev-
CCSS. Collecting and studying student work          els, as does literacy. Being able to read a
and data will help educators reflect on how          novel does not transfer to reading specialized
performance-based assessments can inform            texts that require different ways of reading,
and improve instruction for all students.           speaking, writing, inquiring, communicating,
                                                    and knowing (McConachie & Petrosky, 2010).
                                                    Reading a history textbook is not the same as
RELATIONSHIPS OF DISCIPLINARY                       reading a chemistry textbook. Unfortunately,
LITERACY AND THE CCSS                               teachers may expect that transference of gen-
                                                    eral reading strategies and skills will result in
    Disciplinary literacy tasks are prominently     understanding specialized texts—both disci-
positioned within CCSS to promote the devel-        plinary literacy and CCSS contrast with this
opment of content knowledge, reading, writ-         viewpoint. Although basic reading skills are
ing, and higher order thinking skills across        embedded in all reading tasks (Shanahan &
grades and within each content area. Disci-         Shanahan, 2008), in intermediate through sec-
plinary literacy is complex and is reflective of     ondary grades, students are expected to read
the individualized structure, demands, texts,       and comprehend progressively more com-
and habits of mind associated with each dis-        plex texts that warrant specialized skills and
cipline. According to the CCSS, literacy is po-     routines. In a history class, for example, stu-
sitioned in the center of each subject area.        dents would read primary documents, con-
The CCSS emphasize reading in history/social        struct meaning from multiple sources, exam-
studies, science, and other subject areas. The      ine photos and artifacts, consider the author’s
standards require specialized reading empha-        purpose and perspective for writing the docu-
sis for each subject area and require the teach-    ment or text, and evaluate information. On the
ing of comprehension with both literary and         contrary, in a science class, students would
informational texts. According to the CCSS,         read graphs, charts, and formulas, question
it is imperative that history/social studies and    procedures, and draw conclusions. To pre-
science teachers include texts in their instruc-    pare students to succeed both in college and
tional routines.                                    in the workforce, teachers need to teach them
    Content area teachers will need to empha-       how to access, read, and critically analyze
size disciplinary standards. This means that        text, its meaning, and implications.
they must learn how to teach the special-
ized uses of literacy in each content area in-      Implications for practice
stead of just layering generic reading and writ-       Both the CCSS and disciplinary literacy
ing strategies to content subjects. Both dis-       place challenges on students and teachers.
ciplinary literacy and the CCSS place much          The standards place an increased emphasis
emphasis on reading and interpreting multi-         on informational text, multiple texts, crit-
ple texts at all grade levels, and in reading,      ical reading, disciplinary literacy, compre-
writing, and oral language. Inherent in disci-      hension, oral language, writing about text,
plinary literacy and in the CCSS is the increas-    and technology in literacy and language.
ing expectation for students to incorporate         According to Lee and Spratley (2010), ado-
research into their reading and writing. The        lescents need more targeted, comprehensive,
CCSS also expect students to use technology         and “discipline-tailored” literacy support in
to gather information through print and digi-       the academic areas. All educators need to de-
tal resources, while applying disciplinary liter-   velop knowledge about the unique practices
Disciplinary Literacy and the Common Core State Standards              43

of each discipline and how learning is created     disciplines include purpose setting/problem
and shared (e.g., Fang, 2004; Geisler, 1994;       framing, whole-group knowledge elicitation
Halliday, 1998; Schleppegrell, 2004). Students     and development, text-based discussions us-
can benefit from learning-specific literacy          ing multiple texts types, questioning and mod-
strategies that engage them with complex           eling thinking with texts types, visualizing and
texts, build their background knowledge, de-       visual representations, and summarizing and
velop their comprehension, and write in a          synthesizing with texts (Moje, 2008; Moje &
way that is consistent with each discipline.       Speyer, 2008).
   Professional development should address            Disciplinary literacy focuses on the special-
disciplinary literacy and the CCSS in tandem.      ized problems of each subject area, expert
Lee and Spratley (2010) call for developing        comparisons, the language, and thinking
educators’ and policymakers’ understanding         patterns of each discipline. Teaching low-
of disciplinary literacy, improving policy, and    performing readers discipline-specific strate-
providing specialized, quality professional de-    gies and helping them make expert compar-
velopment to teachers. As discussed previ-         isons, use the language of each discipline
ously, the CCSS will also require targeted com-    to exchange ideas, offer solutions, and raise
prehensive teacher professional development        questions will best prepare them to handle
on the standards, assessment, and implemen-        the complex literacy and curricular demands
tation. Teachers of reading in the disciplines     of each discipline. Key factors for successful
face unique challenges because first, it is dif-    discipline-specific instruction include devel-
ficult to motivate a reader to read a text he       oping a classroom culture of high expecta-
or she is not interested in (Fisher & Frey,        tions (Lee, 2007) and delivering instruction
2009), and second, it is difficult to understand    that is purposeful, authentic, relevant, and
the text when the reader has limited back-         critical. For CCSS and disciplinary literacy pur-
ground knowledge and specialized vocabu-           poses, teachers need to organize instruction
lary about the topic. Reading comprehension        in engaging ways; provide guided support; se-
of complex texts in the disciplines (and across    quence discipline-specific skills; include care-
grades) is not a natural outcome of teaching a     ful reading of complex texts that will help
few effective comprehension strategies. Both       build background knowledge and compre-
CCSS and disciplinary literacy call for the de-    hension; model rereading as needed; teach
velopment of student independence fostered         students how to analyze the author’s use of
by the explicit teaching of discipline-specific     language, grammar, and organization to make
strategies aimed at helping students to read       sense of the text; and help students develop
and comprehend texts of varied complexity          discipline-specific vocabulary and discourse
while building their background knowledge          knowledge (Michaels, O’Connor, & Resnick,
of each discipline.                                2008; Michaels, O’Connor, Hall, & Resnick,
   Prior knowledge is a good predictor of          2002). All should be aimed at building stu-
comprehension (Dole, Valencia, Greer, &            dents’ independence as readers.
Wardrop, 1991). As supported by both the              For states and school districts to be ready
CCSS and disciplinary literacy, the various dis-   to implement the CCSS by 2014 to 2015, as
ciplines provide an appropriate context for        planned (CCSS Initiative, 2010), it is impera-
building and activating students’ prior knowl-     tive that they provide professional opportu-
edge. To do that, teachers have to develop         nities for cross-disciplinary educator teams to
a strategic approach to selecting texts and        engage in collaborative learning and planning,
teaching in a way that will allow students         develop understanding of text complexity,
to problem-solve and develop higher order          and identify discipline-specific instructional
thinking skills across the disciplines (Moje,      strategies for scaffolding students’ access to
2008; O’Brian et al., 1995, 2001). Core literacy   complex texts. Figure 1 summarizes instruc-
teaching practices that can be used across the     tional recommendations (developed by the

Figure 1. Instructional Recommendations for Combined Disciplinary Literacy and Common
Core State Standards Implementation

 Classroom environment
   Create a language- and print-rich classroom environment that includes high expectations for all
      students to demonstrate inquiry, engagement, critical thinking, academic discourse,
      collaboration, rigorous and relevant instruction, purposeful assessment, and support.
   Provide students with a curriculum that is characterized by both depth and consistency across
      grade levels.
   Teach students how to pose discipline-specific questions and apply discipline-specific habits of
      mind. Teach them how to inquire, read, write, talk, reflect, and represent the critical questions,
      problems, and concepts defined by each discipline’s standards and content requirements.
   Teach students how to read critically, compare, evaluate, and synthesize evidence from multiple
      texts, and write critically about the ideas across texts.
   Use a variety of instructional approaches to develop student learning (e.g., direct instruction,
      modeling, inquiry, observations, discussions, flexible grouping, guided reflection, and
      differentiation of content, process, and product).
   Teach students how to locate, read, evaluate, and use information from the Internet, and how to
      use technology for writing and oral presentations.
   Provide instructional accommodations, adaptations, and augmentations for English language
      learners, students with disabilities, and gifted and talented students.
   Promote classroom reading, writing, listening, speaking, and critical thinking using authentic
      materials that support the development of content-specific knowledge.
   Select multiple text selections (and nontext sources).
   Build student background knowledge of topics through wide reading.
   Guide students through complex texts by using discipline-specific literacy strategies that develop
      a conceptual understanding of language, deepen students’ content knowledge and skills, and
      promote transfer of learning.
   Teach students about text features and how to construct meaning from them (e.g., graphs, charts,
      illustrations, and headings).
   Teach text structure and genres, and how to read, predict main ideas in text, and evaluate
      information from multiple complex texts. Explain what counts as evidence within the
 Vocabulary and comprehension
   Analyze the language of each discipline—grammar can help with an understanding of vocabulary,
      complex sentences, and ideas. Help students with identifying “signal” words that can help
      direct and build meaning.
   Provide students with effective tools (or strategies) for vocabulary and comprehension, how to
      access text, how to organize information, and what to do when meaning fails.
   Develop students’ specialized vocabulary and monitor student comprehension.
   Invite students to make their understanding of text visible and tangible (e.g., What am I
      understanding from this text? What is problematic with this text? What questions do I have
      about this text?).
   Help students to deconstruct complex sentences, words, and ideas in text(s).
   Teach students how to identify types of ideas (e.g., explicit vs. implicit) and relationships among
   Use multiple forms of assessment (e.g., formal, informal, formative, summative) to provide
      instruction that will meet all students’ learning; apply progress monitoring of student learning.
   Monitor student progress and use data to make instructional decisions.
Disciplinary Literacy and the Common Core State Standards             45

author) for teachers (and other profession-       Curriculum materials
als) to help with the implementation of disci-       As more states adopt the CCSS, all need to
plinary literacy and CCSS guidelines in each      practice common sense in the assignment of
content area in order to improve student          texts to students, especially if one of the main
outcomes.                                         English language arts program goals is to pro-
                                                  mote a love of reading in students. Curriculum
                                                  developers need to write texts that are rele-
Possibilities and challenges
                                                  vant and rigorous. Barton (2010), a senior as-
   The CCSS present a call to higher standards    sociate with the Educational Testing Service,
and increased student ability to meet them.       calls for the practice of sanity and emphasizes
What role would disciplinary literacy guide-      the need to pay attention to teachers’ views
lines, the CCSS, common core assessments,         about the CCSS. The standards make no ad-
and prescribed materials play in the current      justments for ELLs, students with disabilities,
educational reform efforts? Although there is     gifted students, or students who enter kinder-
common agreement about the need for high-         garten with little exposure to books. Teachers
quality education standards, there is disagree-   will still have to make instructional accommo-
ment among many about the potential impact        dations for those students. How will (should)
of these policies on students, teachers, and      materials be modified to meet CCSS and disci-
schools. How do the CCSS account for uncom-       plinary literacy guidelines?
mon student differences? Will implementing
the CCSS alone ensure that all students in the
                                                  English language learners
United States will graduate with the advanced
skills needed for success in an information-         To help ELLs meet high academic standards
intensive world?                                  in language arts, teachers should take advan-
                                                  tage of the skills and knowledge they bring
                                                  (Almanza-de-Schonewise & Klingner, 2012)
Stakeholders                                      and should ensure that they can provide qual-
   National and partner organizations and the     ified support. ELLs need to be immersed in
International Benchmarking Advisory Group         literacy-rich environments and in diverse lan-
(Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and       guage experiences. Teachers will have to em-
Development, 2008) call on state leaders to       ploy additional resources and strategies to
close the achievement gap between low-            make coursework comprehensible to ELLs.
and high-performing students by strengthen-       Instruction should promote active student
ing the curriculum, placing highly qualified       participation in the classroom, collaboration,
teachers in schools, updating state standards,    evidence-based discussions, and writing that
and leveraging states’ influence to ensure that    is critical to ELLs’ success across the content
textbook and other materials are aligned to       areas.
internationally benchmarked standards by re-         ELLs need to develop communicative
vising state policies for teacher preparation     strengths in language arts. Ongoing assess-
and support, monitor implementation of in-        ment, progress monitoring, and feedback are
terventions, and examine student attainment       necessary to support their learning. In math-
in an international context. Policy makers        ematics, ELLs first need to understand the
will have to collaborate with all educators in    text of the word problem before they attempt
the development of curricular and assessment      to solve it. Classroom instruction should fo-
frameworks for students in grades K–12 that       cus on discipline-specific discourse and aca-
meet CCSS expectations and support a disci-       demic language. Teachers also should encour-
plinary literacy learning framework. Will the     age ELLs to use the language of each disci-
CCSS requirements narrow the achievement          pline, require that they use words in various
gap or expand it?                                 contexts, ensure that they understand spoken

and written words orally and can use them in       sessments will be used for accountability pur-
writing, and teach them to engage in negoti-       poses. What kinds of assessments will be used
ating meaning.                                     across grade levels and subject areas? How
                                                   will the assessments be constructed and how
Students with disabilities                         will the results be used for accountability pur-
                                                   poses? How will the standards, and the states’
   The CCSS articulate rigorous grade-level ex-
                                                   response to them, prepare students for col-
pectations in the areas of mathematics and
                                                   lege and career success? Lastly, how will the
English language arts. Promoting a culture of
                                                   core assessments meet the needs of students
high expectations for all students is a funda-
                                                   with disabilities, ELLs, and students who are
mental goal of the CCSS. Students with dis-
abilities must be challenged (and supported)
                                                      Because the standards do not tell states
to excel within the general curriculum and
                                                   what the standards should look like in prac-
be prepared for success in schools and be-
                                                   tice, there is a need for targeted conversations
yond. How the standards will be taught and
                                                   about CCSS alignment, implementation, what
assessed is of vital importance in reaching stu-
                                                   books students will read in each grade level,
dents with disabilities. Instruction provided
                                                   what data to collect, and how to assess student
by teachers and specialized instructional sup-
                                                   learning and performance. Most states rely on
port personnel (see Ehren, Murza, & Malani,
                                                   single standardized assessments to measure
2012) must include supports and accommo-
                                                   student achievement (and teacher effective-
dations to provide students with disabilities
                                                   ness in several states). States need to improve
with various means of learning and opportu-
                                                   their assessments, provide teachers with ex-
nities to demonstrate their knowledge so they
                                                   amples of formative assessments aligned to
can gain access to the general education cur-
                                                   college-ready core standards, and build data
                                                   platforms that teachers can use to improve
                                                   instruction (Phillips & Wong, 2010).
                                                      Systematic literacy and curricular efforts
   Many educators have expressed concern           can be powerful driving forces to school im-
about the availability and capacity of local       provement (Irvin, Meltzer, Mickler, & Phillips,
resources to implement the CCSS effectively        2008). Will the access to coherent standards,
and also about the frequency and types of          assessment, and curricular sources help prac-
core assessments. Two consortia have been          titioners have improved and timely access to
awarded funding through the Race to The            knowledge, skills, data, and information that
Top Assessment competition to design new           are typically reserved for school administra-
assessment systems. The Partnership for the        tors? How will schools assimilate and accom-
Assessment of Readiness for College and Ca-        modate the standards and what will they do
reers comprises a group of 26 states commit-       to facilitate disciplinary literacy (especially in
ted to developing an assessment system for         grades 6–12)? How are states, school districts,
grades 3 through 12. The SMARTER Balanced          and teacher preparation institutions prepar-
Assessment Consortium comprises a group of         ing for the implementation of the CCSS? Will
31 states that are developing online tests, in-    the standards help educators to make more
cluding summative examinations and optional        focused curricular and assessment decisions?
formative examinations.                            States and school districts need to put in place
   Although top-performing countries allow         mechanisms for a critical examination of the
for greater school autonomy and choice in          core standards, align the CCSS with existing
the areas of accountability and monitoring of      state standards and assessments, develop as-
student progress, there are many unanswered        sessments to measure student progress, pro-
questions about how the common core as-            mote collaborative inquiry, and plan to meet
Disciplinary Literacy and the Common Core State Standards              47

the needs of all students. Educators will need      school psychologists, literacy coaches, “En-
resources, support, and time to adjust instruc-     glish as a Second Language” teachers, and spe-
tion, align instructional materials to the stan-    cial educators to make necessary data-driven
dards, and participate in collaborative inquiry.    modifications and accommodations for stu-
                                                    dents with language and other learning needs.
Instructional considerations                        Speech–language pathologists, for example,
   The CCSS set the context for text difficul-       will play a vital role in CCSS and disciplinary
ties being intensified and for teachers avoid-       literacy implementation—their role will be a
ing the practice of moving students to easier       must in supporting students to master the
text when the reading of complex text be-           speech and language skills required for meet-
comes difficult. Does this mean that teachers        ing the CCSS.
will be reading only complex text to students?         Supportive and ongoing communication
How about students who are having difficul-          among all educators will be needed to pro-
ties reading, in general? How can instruction       mote delivery of quality instruction, identify
in disciplinary literacy be tailored to meet the    and support students who are having diffi-
needs of those students? The CCSS are at a          culties meeting grade-level expectations, and
high level for early readers. How will complex      make data-informed educational decisions.
texts facilitate progress in learning reading de-   Both the CCSS and disciplinary literacy incor-
coding and phonics?                                 porate the concept that each discipline has
   On the contrary, what is the optimum level       a unique approach to literacy and that con-
of text difficulty? Should students read some        tent teachers are in the best position to teach
text that is at their reading level? How will       discipline-specific literacy skills that are rel-
teachers scaffold students’ learning from com-      evant and important to their subject areas.
plex texts? Multiple texts need to be intro-        There needs to be a systematic and shared
duced in kindergarten and used throughout           approach to language, literacy learning, and
Grade 12. What professional development             interventions within the CCSS, disciplinary
will teachers receive to help them do so and        literacy, and intervention frameworks across
who will need to participate in it? Should          grade levels. To best prepare all students in
professional development be offered to class-       language, literacy, and content, it is impera-
room teachers only or to all educators? The         tive that classroom teachers collaborate with
standards are clear about expecting students        other support personnel in order to under-
to compare and contrast, analyze, evaluate,         stand the needs of ELLs and students with dis-
and synthesize information across texts and         abilities and make appropriate instructional
engage in evidence-based evaluation. How            and assessment decisions. Everyone will need
will teachers and other professionals help all      to learn and use a CCSS and disciplinary liter-
students meet the demands of such texts?            acy common language as they work to meet
   The CCSS and disciplinary literacy present       the needs of all students.
new challenges for students with language
and other learning difficulties and the educa-       CONCLUSION
tors who teach them and support them. All
educators will need to reframe their views             One of the CCSS premises is that states
of literacy; for example, both disciplinary lit-    are no longer competing with other states
eracy and the CCSS embrace deep learning,           but with other countries around the world.
specialized knowledge, and ambiguity. With          Many U.S. educators and policymakers are
proper training, content area teachers can          concerned about the number of tests students
learn how to support the needs of all stu-          already take and the costs associated with
dents through the application of discipline-        such tests. According to the CCSS, there is
specific practices. They will need to col-           a need to prepare students for college and
laborate with speech–language pathologists,         career and for assessments that will indicate

whether students are on track for college and                 the CCSS help all students make the grade?
career readiness. The CCSS promise rigor, fo-                 Will they bring the academic coherence they
cus, and coherence, and disciplinary literacy                 are aiming for? Although the standards do not
offers “discipline-tailored” learning. The CCSS               define how teachers should teach, in order
include disciplinary literacy considerations                  for them to meet CCSS in secondary grades,
and call for a restructuring of educational poli-             teachers will need to implement disciplinary
cies that will help the United States achieve                 literacy instruction to meet CCSS expecta-
true international competitiveness. Although                  tions.
in theory the benefits of the CCSS and disci-                     Educational change is not an automatic re-
plinary literacy are obvious, many challeng-                  sult of new policy. Change cannot take place
ing tasks and questions remain about cur-                     without broad-based participation, shared vi-
riculum development, assessment of student                    sion and accountability, and ongoing collab-
progress, teacher professional development                    orative inquiry from all stakeholders. Educa-
in both the CCSS and disciplinary literacy,                   tional solutions need to be both theoretical
and the needs of ELLs and students with ex-                   and practical (Fullan, 2004). The road to CCSS
ceptionalities. The CCSS goals are noble, but                 and disciplinary literacy implementation is
the outcomes remain to be determined. How                     loaded with possibilities, questions, and un-
will disciplinary literacy and the CCSS impact                certainties. This education reform movement
teacher recruitment, retention, classroom in-                 warrants gathering evidence to support the
struction, and professional development?                      impact of the CCSS on student learning and
   A focus on literacy in each content area will              success in the disciplines, in schools, and
have an impact on student learning but will                   beyond.


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