The EEF’s guidance report ‘Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’ states as its first recommendation that schools should ‘prioritise disciplinary literacy across the curriculum’. In a nutshell, disciplinary literacy entails emphasising the subject-specific ways of reading, writing, thinking and communicating that experts in a discipline understand tacitly but with which novice learners will require explicit instruction and plenty of guided practice. You can read more about the nuts and bolts of disciplinary literacy here.
Even in normal times, getting to grips with disciplinary literacy as part of day-to-day classroom teaching can be challenging. This is in no small part due to the complexity of bringing to the surface ingrained subject literacy knowledge that has become automatic to most teachers, and then breaking this down into the composite parts needed for effective teaching. However, a more concrete problem that schools may encounter when teaching disciplinary literacy is the fact that subject curricula often does not provide students with many opportunities to engage with genuine disciplinary texts. More often than not, students have a diet of texts that have been specifically designed for school use, be these text books or resources designed and created in school. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this and adapted texts certainly have a very important role to play in effective teaching and learning. Nevertheless, if students are to become inducted into disciplines that exist beyond the school gates, they need exposure to the real ways in which experts communicate in those fields.
Here at Durrington we have looked for ways to achieve this exposure to genuine disciplinary texts remotely and in a format that will engage students. Accordingly, a number of teachers have recorded videos which are being sent out to our year 9 students. In these videos, the teachers discuss an aspect of their subject that they feel particularly passionate about, and then link this to a ‘read aloud’ of a related text. The texts have been purposefully chosen to represent those which students may not usually encounter until they studied a subject at A level or beyond. The sophistication of these texts is an important part of the criteria for their inclusion in the video – the videos are not intended to be an extra resource for current lessons but something beyond the usual realm of the classroom. In addition, we wanted to enable students to experience authentic texts but needed to ensure that individual reading capabilities did not present barriers for any students, hence the reading aloud.
Selecting year 9 as the recipients of these disciplinary reading videos is also a deliberate choice. This cohort are currently in the process of choosing their option subjects for GCSE and so have a vested interest in learning more about where different subjects can take them after their school years.
The videos are wide-ranging and unique. Crucially, every teacher models not only their passion for their subject but also how the literacy practices in that subject work. For example, SME and citizenship teacher Harriet Peach explains her interest in human rights and then reads from an Amnesty International article. Alternatively, art teacher Steve Bloomer discusses his visit to a Damien Hirst exhibition and reads a related Guardian article. By reading these texts aloud – thus demonstrating how fluency and prosody create meaning – and then discussing why they read them and how the texts shape their thinking, the teachers make it explicit how disciplinary literacy is not a bolt-on to subject content but the very heart of the subject itself.
Here are a sample of our disciplinary reading videos: