I was sitting in the waiting area thumbing through a magazine as my new car was getting its first oil change. I glanced up to see a group of technicians gathered next to my vehicle with heads bent, and was a bit concerned as to what might be the cause of this little powwow. After about fifteen minutes, my car was backed out of the bay area, and the manager was apologizing to me for my extended wait. Apparently, the new sync system on my vehicle was a first for this crew, and they had to read through the owner's manual to figure out how to turn off the oil change light. As an ELA teacher, this was music to my ears! I had a well-tuned vehicle AND a story to share the next day about how important literacy is for any career! Yes, Students, you will use this someday!!! That's why all teachers need to lead with literacy.
There are literacy components within science, social studies, and technical subjects that speak to the importance of a literacy focus beyond the ELA classroom. While reading and writing may be the foundation of language arts, they aren't exclusive skills found only within its curriculum. I can't call to mind a single subject devoid of reading or writing, whether it be a text, an instruction manual, or even a recipe. All subject areas demand a focus on literacy to foster student growth and mastery. One of the best ways to promote literacy is to model, model, model. The more you talk through the process and model the behaviors of good readers and writers, the more ingrained they will become for students. LearnNC1 and the Responsive Classroom2 offer some great explanations and refreshers for using modeling in the classroom.
A botany lab, Civil War cause and effect paper, math learning log, and short story all require very different writing styles. Each one will necessitate specific instruction within the given subject area. Rather than becoming frustrated because the majority of the class couldn't correctly draft a compare and contrast essay from the word go, take the time to model the format and use graphic organizers to facilitate the writing process. Sites like rubistar3 can be a real lifesaver to help you create meaningful rubrics that give students clear directions and allow you to pinpoint key focus areas for assignments and projects. Student samples or teacher created examples are great for modeling expectations too. A few years ago, I created both top notch and mediocre examples of a novel project based on a book I knew almost all students had read during the past school year. As a homework assignment on two consecutive evenings, students were given a project sample and a rubric with which to grade it. I found that the students were far more critical than I would ever be, and seeing the differences in work quality really had an impact. The majority of the class was able to complete the project in the "top notch" category!
Each subject area is going to bring about its own unique challenges with reading too. A chemistry, algebra, history, and language arts text are all going to look pretty different. Taking the time to familiarize students with a text and how to navigate its components will certainly pay off in the long run, and there are many helpful strategies4 out there for tackling nonfiction texts. Don't let your students be daunted by primary sources that appear to be too complex. Historical documents and research studies may seem overwhelming at first glance, but they offer unique and engaging perspectives on a given topic or subject area. Show students how to break down difficult text and text structures into meaningful segments. Model your own thought process as you dive into a portion of the text together. Lead with literacy and your students will follow.
Providing students with the opportunity to see the life-long benefits of a focus on literacy is imperative, and the more you can bring the real world into the classroom, the better. Sharing examples like reading an owner's manual, writing a complaint letter, or reviewing a lease are great ways to show students the everyday need for literacy. While students probably won't be writing detailed biology labs at age thirty-five, they may be reviewing step-by-step instructions to program their latest technology purchase, and ingraining a mindset for attention to detail will only benefit them in the long run. If we all lead with literacy, our students will be well prepared for their countless interactions with print in the real world.
How do you keep literacy at the forefront of your lessons and planning? What real world literacy scenarios have you found to share with students? Add any successes from your classroom to the comment section, and let's lead with literacy!!!
Additional Resources & Works Cited