Disciplinary Literacy: Teaching Students How to Read Like Scientists

By Dr. Karen Beerer, vice president of Learning and Development, Discovery Education

The following is an excerpt of our latest whitepaper, Disciplinary Literacy: Helping Students Develop Insider Knowledge.

If we want students to learn biology, why not teach them to think, read and write like biologists? If we want them to learn history, shouldn’t they learn to think, read and write like historians?

Approaching core subjects from this perspective is at the heart of disciplinary literacy. Now more than ever, it’s become vital that educators instill literacy skills grounded in real careers, creating students with an expert’s eye for real-world materials, regardless of the medium.

Content-area reading uses generic reading strategies, regardless of the text that’s being read. But disciplinary literacy is a way of approaching text with the reading strategies employed by experts in a given field — experts have specialized ways of thinking, talking, and writing.

Historians require the lens of multiple perspectives, reading between the lines of several writers to arrive at their conclusions. Mathematicians seek absolute answers, first and foremost, using abstract reasoning and pattern recognition to make their findings. Scientists employ analytical skills to parse the validity of data in research reports, finding logical links between various findings before formulating their hypotheses.

These experts don’t just rely on one resource. Their expertise is contingent on their own observations, along with the perspectives of others, expressed across several media types. Likewise, the days of using a single textbook as a teaching resource are over. Educators must begin using new types of resources in the classroom, including digital content and media to immerse students in real-world reading, writing and thinking.

Discovery Education Techbook provides students with primary sources and video, showing actual footage of events that can engage students in reading texts — often these are the same materials that experts in their field read and use. Techbook allows students to utilize tools like highlighting and text annotating to decipher content-rich texts and interact with a glossary that utilizes not only the definition of a word, but also a video, an animation and an image. One of the core elements of disciplinary literacy is honing the ability to read, write and speak fluently using the vocabulary of the field.

The disciplinary literacy approach to reading reinforces the new era of teaching, which welcomes multiple resources and multiple media types, to help students form a grounded understanding of a subject that even experts would respect. Just recently, a superintendent said, “the combination of media integrated into the informational text makes students want to read.”

The hallmark of any focus on literacy — disciplinary or otherwise — is instilling the need and the desire to want to read.

Read the full whitepaper: Disciplinary Literacy: Helping Students Develop Insider Knowledge.


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  1. online essay editor said:

    If we are talking about teaching students thinking like a scientists, we should help them understand the nature of science. So if students are first taught how to think like scientists, they will read like scientists

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  3. Jim Lucas said:

    I totally agree with the author. For example, writers should be taught accordingly how to write. Even writing blogshould be correct and professional. Your words are showing your personality. And an educated person makes his or her speeches in a sophisticated manner.

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