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What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why is it Important?

Disciplinary literacies refer to the specific reading, writing, and communication practices required within different academic disciplines. They are important because it has been shown to:

  1. Enhance content comprehension: Disciplinary literacies help students develop a deep understanding of subject-specific concepts and terminology, enabling them to engage with complex texts and effectively grasp disciplinary content. According to Shanahan and Shanahan (2008), disciplinary literacy instruction significantly improves students' reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, and content understanding.

  2. Develop critical thinking skills: Disciplinary literacies foster analytical thinking, enabling students to evaluate and interpret information within the context of a particular discipline. This skill is crucial for academic success and real-world problem-solving. This has been demonstrated in elementary science classes (Vieira & Tenreiro-Vieira, 2016) and across content areas (Goldman et al. 2016).

  3. Supports academic writing: Each discipline has its unique conventions and writing styles. Developing disciplinary literacies helps students acquire the necessary skills to effectively communicate their ideas in writing, adapting to the specific requirements of different disciplines. Rose and Martin (2012) demonstrated that explicit instruction in disciplinary literacies improved students' writing skills, leading to more coherent, organized, and discipline-specific written texts.

  4. Bridges the gap between school and real-world contexts: Disciplinary literacies help students understand how knowledge is constructed and communicated within different disciplines, preparing them for future educational pursuits and professional environments. With disciplinary literacy placing inquiry at its center, Moje (2015) argues that this can empower students with becoming active learners equipped with tools to support social change.

References Goldman, S. R., Britt, M. A., Brown, W., Cribb, G., George, M., Greenleaf, C., ... & Project READi. (2016). Disciplinary literacies and learning to read for understanding: A conceptual framework for disciplinary literacy. Educational Psychologist, 51(2), 219-246. Moje, E. B. (2015). Doing and teaching disciplinary literacy with adolescent learners: A social and cultural enterprise. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 254-278. Rose, D., & Martin, J. R. (2012). Learning to write, reading to learn: Genre, knowledge and pedagogy in the Sydney School. London: Equinox. Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard educational review, 78(1), 40-59. Vieira, R. M., & Tenreiro-Vieira, C. (2016). Fostering scientific literacy and critical thinking in elementary science education. International Journal of science and mathematics education, 14, 659-680.

2023, Johanna David-Tramantano, PhD

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