Literacy in the Discipline

Although each discipline has its own unique values, conventions (format and style), and expectations that students must learn, LiteracyTA has identified high-level literacy skills like analyzing prompts, marking texts, analyzing text structure, and integrating sources to name a few that cut across all subjects and disciplines. Students who master these interdisciplinary skills will perform well in various reading and writing situations. Depending on the discipline, students may read differently, or write for different purposes and to different audiences, but they will need a common set of reading, writing, and speaking skills that they can strategically employ in any discipline.

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When we think of academic disciplines, or content areas, we often think first of content. In English/LA, for example, we may consider novels we will teach or themes we will explore in our classes. In the sciences, we might think about what topics would be of most interest to students. However, if students are really going to explore content of a discipline, they need to know how to access it. They also need to understand what motivates our disciplines, that is, what experts in different disciplines (content areas) value, what questions they ask or problems they try to solve, and how their work is presented in their disciplinary texts.

Across a university campus, students may use textbooks, though this is more common in the sciences and engineering than in the humanities; they may be asked to chat or collaborate on-line through classroom management systems (e.g., WebCT or Blackboard); they may contact each other or their instructors through email or texting. They may learn that argumentation appears in all disciplines, though in different forms and in different sections of texts. In all classes, students may be asked to summarize, though in different ways (e.g., the abstract, the argument summary) and visuals may be central in their classrooms, as well. In an increasing number of post-secondary classrooms, students are assessed through in-class, multiple choice or short answer examinations or through short papers, such as annotated bibliographies.

However, according to those who study the academic disciplines, there are distinctions between and among disciplines, variations that become increasingly prominent as students progress through undergraduate and graduate programs.

The purpose of the "Literacy in the Discipline Comparison" chart below is to consider these major distinctions as they apply both to assigned texts and to the values and texts of faculty and professionals. These are generalizations; students must always be cautioned that within and across their chosen disciplines and in their professions, they will probably find considerable variation. Students need to be alert to these differences and become, as I note in my 1997 book, researchers into the texts and contexts in which they are studying or working.

Guides and Resources

Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

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