Skip to content

Disciplinary Literacy

Lately I have been following the work of Tim and Cindy Shanahan regarding the idea of disciplinary literacy.  Disciplinary literacy refers to the instructionally-relevant differences in literacy use among disciplines, e.g. Math, History, Chemistry.  Tim and Cindy specifically refer to the areas of literacy that involve vocabulary, comprehension, fluency and writing.  They acknowledge that there are fundamental differences inherent to each discipline in how they approach reading textbooks and other materials.

Those involved in adolescent literacy are looking at the effectiveness of the “general strategy” use, a collection of strategies that are applicable across a wide-range disciplines and grades, for students in middle and high school.

Most experts acknowledge that each discipline possesses specialized genre, vocabulary, traditions of communication, and standards of quality and precision, and each relies on specific kinds of reading and writing.

I want to know your thoughts regarding the idea of disciplinary literacy.  When you think about how your discipline communicates with students and students communicate within your discipline, what does it look like?


  1. Francis Burns wrote:

    I think that there are fundemental differences in how we relate to each other depending on the discipline. As I tell my students there is a specific language utilized in every career field, and to just know the lingo that is used identifies you as a person involved in that career field. Maybe this comment isn’t directly related to the educational aspects of your article, but I believe it is a point that important for students to know.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  2. Kristy Williamson wrote:

    My son just finished his freshman year of college. In his first semester he was in a class about math and literature. His teacher assigned readings from Jorge Luis Borges, fiction and non-fiction. He said his favorite short story was ‘The Library of Babel’. I read it, but just did not “get it”. Though I will say it was full of math, geometry, and philosophical ideas. It was the first time I had read anything like it. I think my son enjoyed it because his ‘math thinking’ is far beyond mine. Perhaps those who are into math theory and philosophy will be excited by this type of literature.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  3. kschmalen wrote:

    Wow…how cool is that (especially for those Math people) that there is a class that links math and literature. As I read more and more things, I am becoming a firm believer that Reading teachers should expand reading strategies that they teach beyond narrative text to discipline specific reading strategies. Thank you for your comment and sharing your son’s experience!

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.