“The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school.” The implication of this statement means that today, more than ever, the responsibility of teaching literacy skills rests not only with ELA teachers but also with other subject area educators. Science and Social Studies, which require nonfiction reading, are subject areas in which nonfiction literacy and writing skills can be taught. The National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) Framework reinforces the need for improved literacy skills, as the framework calls for students to be able to pass assessments that are comprised of 55% and 70% nonfiction reading by the end of grades 8 and 12, respectively.
Teachers who have been trained in Social Studies and Science (but do not have training in reading instruction) may approach these standards with trepidation and uncertainty. It is understandable and not surprising for them to have reservations about stepping outside of their areas of expertise. Fortunately, there are some simple ways that Social Studies and Science teachers can begin to incorporate the Common Core Literacy Standards into their existing curriculum and instruction.
Below are 5 ideas based on some of the literacy standards that teachers can use immediately as they infuse these skills into classroom instruction. Each idea is prefaced with the standard, followed by an easy-to-implement example:
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources. As students read a chapter from a textbook or an article related to the class, teachers can ask students to answer open-ended questions that require text citations to support their claims. For example, if students are learning about the Holocaust, the teacher can pose a question such as, “How did the Nazis use propaganda to advance their agenda? Be sure to support your response with facts and information from the text.” This will ensure that students think critically and revisit the text to cite their support.
Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered). In Social Studies, if students are learning how a bill becomes a law, they may be asked to complete a graphic organizer that outlines the important steps of this process. By requiring them to explain the process in their own words, the teacher can assess how well the students comprehended the text they read. If students are permitted to work in groups or partnerships for this activity, teachers will be addressing speaking and listening standards as well.
Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic. In Science, if students are reading about, watching videos, and completing experiments that investigate tornadoes and hurricanes, they can complete Venn diagrams, T-Charts, or other graphic organizers to highlight similarities and differences in their observations and findings. To extend this further, the teacher may ask students to summarize the information in a paragraph that both compares and contrasts the different types of catastrophic storm systems.
Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes. To use the example from above, students could summarize each experiment they performed as a lab report that explains the steps they followed to complete each experiment. In these reports, the teacher would expect students to use domain-specific vocabulary to demonstrate their understanding of new subject matter.
Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration. Teachers can pose questions to the students that relate to an upcoming unit of study, and the students can be responsible for researching their answers by applying research skills. By collaborating with the school librarian, the two teachers can focus on research skills, which will require immediate application with respect to their research questions. If each student is assigned a different question, this is a great way for the students to build background knowledge and teach the other students about their topic before delving into the unit more deeply. Or, students may complete the project at the end of a unit as a way to choose one aspect of the topic with the intent to deepen their understanding and zero in on a very specific element of the larger topic.
Of course, the teacher will need to adjust and adapt these ideas based on the material that he or she currently teaches, but these commonsense examples illustrate how seamlessly the Common Core Standards can be woven into existing curriculum. In addition, it is important to note that it does not always require a complete overhaul of every lesson to transform the instruction and make a notable impact. With communication and collaboration between disciplines, teachers can feel confident in building literacy proficiency in their students – and this proficiency will equip them with the skills they need for college and beyond.