According to NAEP data, although literacy in the elementary grades has improved, literacy at the high school level has declined. The reason behind this may be that administrators, middle and high school teachers generally have an “inoculation mentality” – the notion that strong literacy in the earlier grades would translate into disciplinary literacy in the higher grades without direct instruction. However, there is a need for direct disciplinary literacy instruction, as students are often unprepared for the complex texts encountered in college. Disciplinary literacy instruction is different from basic or intermediate literacy instruction in that it involves teaching students how to engage with complex texts and how to decode “disciplinary discourses"; students are essentially taught how to think like “discourse insiders”. Engaging with complex text requires more effort on the part of the student. More effort requires motivation, which in turn is heavily influenced by academic identity. Interestingly, identities can be internally generated or can be the result of external influences. Teachers can influence students’ identities in a way that is positive and productive.
I used to teach Biology, and I remember every time I asked students to read an article or a passage from the text book, I would receive a lot of resistance from students. If they did read, they often skimmed the text for quick answers. After reading this section, I realize that students need to be taught how to engage with these texts - it is not enough to simply include more reading in the classroom. According to the author, “reading is what we do to make sense, to understand”; the process of making sense is invisible, and to the expert mind it is automatic. However, novice thinkers need to be shown what engaging with text actually looks and sounds like. I also realized that personal identities can heavily influence the extent to which students engage with text. As a teacher, how can I help students create positive academic identities? It might be necessary for students to personally identify with the subject in some way. Perhaps allowing students to choose scientific readings that interest them would give them the motivation to learn how to comprehend disciplinary text. It would be interesting to see how literacy instruction can be tied into modeling so as to make it more relevant to students.