Disciplinary Literacy in ELA

Many weeks back, I shared a long narrative about a shift in our secondary intervention structure to add a course focused on disciplinary literacy.  In essence, this course provided units for ELA, social studies, and science guided by strategies, both content literacy strategies (those to address general comprehension supports), disciplinary literacy strategies (those addressing the thinking processes specific to the discipline), and writing processes for summarizing and applying content.  These processes were driven by inquiry within each discipline and supported through close reading protocols.  The inquiry element provided a focus for significant knowledge and skill growth in areas unique to each discipline.  The close reading protocols scaffold a teaching and learning structure based on standards for content and skill development.    These were built for literacy intervention support for secondary ELA, science, and social studies, with the intention to build an avenue of collaboration with Tier 1/core disciplinary classrooms. Through professional learning across the district,  we had opportunities to provide teachers with replicable structures to support authentic literacy in core instruction. 


Sheila Brown and Lee Kappes (2012)
provide a comprehensive description: 

“Close Reading of text involves an investigation of a short piece of text, with multiple readings done over multiple instructional lessons. Through text-based questions and discussion, students are guided to deeply analyze and appreciate various aspects of the text, such as key vocabulary and how its meaning is shaped by context; attention to form, tone, imagery and/or rhetorical devices; the significance of word choice and syntax; and the discovery of different levels of meaning as passages are read multiple times. The teacher’s goal in the use of close reading is to gradually release responsibility to students—moving from an environment where the teacher models for students the strategies to one where students employ the strategies on their own when they read independently.

“Close reading cannot be reserved for students who already are strong readers; it should be a vehicle through which all students grapple with advanced concepts and participate in engaging discussions regardless of their independent reading level” (Brown & Kappes, 2012, p2).


When I began to develop the pacing guide for this course, which you are welcome to if you message me and request access, it seemed important to develop close reading protocols that would support teachers, many who were not reading specialists and who could not be content experts across all disciplines. 

Here I hope to provide a process for close reading we have been vetting in core discipline and intervention classes for grades 6-12 over the last few years that support our students’ needs to shift literacy processing skills across the “core” disciplines” (ELA, SS, SCI, MATH),  At the secondary level, students are asked to engage in a form of “code shifting,” if you will, from discipline-to-discipline.  If we’ve thought it through in the past or not, each discipline, including the arts, technology, health sciences, etc. all have different lenses through which each identifies, analyzes and evaluates disciplinary-specific text in order to construct and apply knowledge authentically in each discipline. 

As you will notice, all the resources mentioned for this protocol are linked here. You are welcome to them after making your own copy for editing.  The purpose of these documents is to support the many teachers who have requested process ideas for scaffolding student reading and writing for the purpose of learning content.  They are fluid, as I will explain further as I provide a brief tour through the links below.

Close Reading Protocol – ELA Teacher Planning 
The link above/image below is a template for teacher planning.  This particular template was developed for our secondary disciplinary literacy intervention courses, as mentioned above, based on areas of need our students most demonstrated.  However, you should adjust the second and third reads based on the standards-based planning for your ELA course. 

Read 1: Content Literacy Skills
This “first read” process is built to help students engage in the three stages of good reading, to improve general comprehension.   This allows students to identify and clarify confusions, make connections to prior knowledge and experiences, and gain a general understanding of the author’s message. This allows students the foundation needed to read and apply disciplinary concepts to the information in the text during the second and third reads.   If you follow this link to our sample student’s guide and make your own copy, you can review the process from a student’s point of view. 

Read 2: Disciplinary Literacy Skills 
The second read is based on the lens through which they should be reading the text for the discipline.  In ELA, that focus is on how the author uses language, makes choices about language and idea development for a variety of purposes. This second read should ask students to take their general understanding from the first read and apply the skills of the discipline to analyze and evaluate the texts.  The intervention students served by the sample student’s guide are evaluating the author’s use of language to express tone and develop the theme. 

Read 3:  Writing about Reading 
As mentioned before, our students engage in a series of close reads as part of an inquiry.  The final step of our close reading is to answer the essential question for the unit inquiry using the evidence from a text.  This is maybe the most rigorous step of the three reads. In our situation, we build writing prompts that ask students to explore a common question used to guide inquiry and apply standards for the unit. 

ELA Interactive Close Reading Protocol Guides for Students  
Interactive Google Slide – available for copying and editing

One of the most crucial elements of engaging in effective close reading that builds content knowledge and literacy skills is knowing how and why you chose a piece of text or a series of texts for close reading. When considering texts for close reading, here are a few resources you may consider:

Turning the Page on Complex Texts: Differentiated Scaffolds for Close Reading Instruction by Diane Lapp, Barbara Moss, Maria C. Grant, & Kelly Johnson (2016)

Rigorous Reading: 5 Access Points For Comprehending Complex Text Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey (2013) 

Why to Teach Close Reading of a Complex Text Douglas Fisher 

This is Disciplinary Literacy: Reading, Writing, Thinking, and Doing Content Area by Content Area Releah Cossett Lent (2016) 

Implementing the Common Core State Standards: A Primer on Close Reading Text   Shelia Brown & Lee Kappes (October 2012)

Next month we will provide these same resources for social studies/history instruction.

~Tracy Cooper

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