Honoring Disciplinary Ways of Knowing and Thinking

Disciplines each embrace unique ways of knowing and thinking, particularly from the perspective of using literacy practices to support learning. Take, for example, the ways in which reading has been viewed in the fields of content area reading and content literacy.  In the field of reading, William S. Gray first wrote about reading in subject areas in the 1925  NSSE Yearbook for the 24th National Society for the Study of Education, What Research has to say about Reading.  For better or worse, depending on what stance you take, Gray later also coined the now ubiquitous phrase, “Every teacher is a teacher of reading.”  This simple phrase is at the nexus of both the interest in, and misunderstanding of, what have been termed content reading, content literacy, and now disciplinary literacies.

Positioning every teacher as a "teacher of reading" is problematic because it puts the focus on reading instruction in disciplines rather than on disciplinary ways of knowing which can include reading and other literacy practices. Even framing content area teachers' stances toward their disciplines, ways of constructing lesson frameworks, teaching concepts, problem solving, and critical perspectives by naming these things or aspects of them from the field of literacy is problematic.  For example, if a literacy coach works with teachers from various disciplines, in the absence of a deep understanding of the discipline, she or he may simply frame lesson planning and instruction as challenging in terms of vocabulary, comprehension, metacognition, and text structure.  Granted, in order to work together, literacy professionals and content area teachers must develop a shared language and shared understanding of the challenges and pedagogy of each discipline.   But a history teacher could frame instruction in terms of sourcing and critically examining primary documents as a primary stance before a literacy teacher might discuss possible critical reading strategies that might help with examineing multiple sources for accuracy and credibility.