Disciplinary Literacy has been identified by the EEF as the number one strategy for improving the literacy of students within secondary schools. It is a term which encompasses the unique ways students must be able to read, write and speak in each individual subject area. This article sets out ways in which you can employ disciplinary literacy strategies within your classroom.
1. Have a clear idea of what excellence looks like within your subject
It can be tempting when working with students with weaker literacy skills to provide models and examples that are more straightforward and represent mid rather than higher level attainment. Teachers can often be concerned that these students may become overwhelmed if they are faced with work that is so far beyond their current capabilities. However, students with weaker literacy skills are those who most need to be exposed to excellence within our subject areas. What is important is the way in which we build up to the point at which these models are provided, and the scaffolding we provide to allow students to replicate this success (discussed below)
2. Explicit teaching of challenging key conceptual ideas and vocabulary
The most successful responses are likely to be characterised by a clear understanding of key concepts and a confident grasp of subject-specific vocabulary terms. As part of curriculum planning, it is vital that these key aspects are identified from the outset. Time and space must be given not only to teach these concepts explicitly within lessons, but also revisit them both as part of homework and as part of ongoing retrieval practice. This secure grounding in more challenging ideas will provide students with weaker literacy skills the background knowledge needed to access more challenging exemplar material.
3. Carefully prepared scaffolding materials
Extended written tasks within each subject area will each have common characteristics that can be identified through a close examination of exemplar materials and examination reports. For example, what are the discourse markers which demonstrate that a student is providing a response which is ‘evaluative’ as opposed to one which ‘explains’? Command words are often similar from one subject to another, but their meanings can be subtly different. Children need to be exposed to successful responses which can be clearly broken down into component parts, so that these component parts can then be practised in isolation. It is not good enough to avoid giving the highest level answers to weaker students because they will find them off-putting – it is our job to write responses which bring together challenging granular details that have been taught in isolation (as described above), and express them following familiar writing patterns that are also practised repeatedly.
Kathrine Mortimore, Author of Disciplinary Literacy and Explicit Vocabulary Teaching @kathrine_28