Looking @ 5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 2 – Content Literacy

Looking @ 5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 2-Content/Disciplinary Literacy - In our modern world students need to understand and be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies, and School Librarians need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit. In Part 2 we look at Library Lessons that help build the Content/Disciplinary Literacy that students need to be successful with current and future coursework.In our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write. Students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies that are important in our global society:

  • Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  • Content/Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
  • Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
  • Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
  • Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

As School Librarians we need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, so I’m addressing each of these literacies in a separate blog post to offer examples/suggestions about how we might do that. The Part 1 blog post covered reading, so this post looks at Content/Disciplinary Literacy.

We need to take this literacy beyond structurally analyzing text to read better in different subject classrooms. Disciplinary Literacy means students can think like a scientist, or a mathematician, or an historian, or a musician, or an artist! School Librarians are in a unique position to construct such lessons that infuse reading, writing, thinking, and communication skills specific to each discipline’s vocabulary, concepts, and methods.

Integrating Content/Disciplinary Literacy

When I simplified my Library Orientations with ELA classes to focus solely on reading, I actually created opportunities for other subject-area Library Lessons so students would learn library skills in context and be more likely to remember and apply what they learn. When subject-area teachers see value in a Library Lesson, they provide time for more lessons as the year progresses, and they share the positive experience with others, who are motivated to collaborate with us.

Dewey Decimal Numbers with Math Classes

If my listservs are any indication, School Librarians often struggle with how to present Dewey Classification in a meaningful way. We rarely have a reason to invite Math classes to the library, and Dewey Numbers give them a curricular reason to visit, especially with a hands-on activity that practices identifying and using numbers & decimals. Students wonder why they’ve come to the library with their Math class—it’s new and different so they’re excited! Math teachers like a fun, non-graded review where they can see which students are having trouble with decimals, and, in my school, they come to me to ask when they can bring their classes in!

My middle school Dewey Lessons activate prior knowledge of decimals in order to prepare students for their Math decimal unit, while also teaching how decimals are used in the library. They perform Dewey Number location activities, because that is what is most important about DDC—teaching students how to USE it, not remember it.

  • My 6g Dewey Lesson reviews recognizing decimal number place values and sequencing decimals, to prepare students for learning to add and subtract decimals. I tell students that when we get a new book in the library, we ask, “What is this book about?” and the answer determines the Dewey number we assign to the book. We review how each place of a decimal number has a certain value—hundreds, tens, ones, tenths, hundredths, thousandths.Place value slide for a Math Dewey Lesson Likewise in the library, each place has a value: a subject or topic of knowledge. As we move from left to right, each number denotes a more specific sub-topic of the one before it.
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  • My 7g Dewey Lesson reviews adding and subtracting decimals to prepare students for learning to multiply and divide decimals. This lesson does take some preparation, but it’s worth it to see students scurrying around the library to locate particular Dewey-number books and having a wonderful time—in a Math class!
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  • Even elementary students who have not learned decimals can put numbers in order:
    • Create a set of picture cards that match those on Dewey shelf signs and put a corresponding Dewey number on the back, especially those that are only 3 digits. Distribute them on tables and have students pick a favorite Subject from their table, then use the number on the back to find a book on the shelf with that number.
    • To help students understand that there are two parts to a Dewey number, create one color of cards with 3 numbers and another dolor of cards with a big dot & 1 or 2 numbers to the right of the dot. They can learn that each part is in separate numerical order, and that’s how you find the numbers. Students pair the cards, then find the Dewey Number on the shelf.

Because my simplified Dewey Lessons focus only on locating Dewey numbers, students grasp that Dewey numbers listed next to search results in the online catalog tell them exactly where to locate the book on the shelf. I incorporate Subject searching the online catalog into Content-area lessons where it is more pertinent and better remembered.

Dewey Subject Organization with Content-area Classes

Incorporating Dewey Subjects (and their numbers) with Content-area classes is so much better than a standalone Dewey lesson because the information is relevant and better remembered. For example, when Science classes study the organization and classification of living organisms, my Library Lesson shows how Dewey numbers follow that same disciplinary structure. Students are able to make visible associations between the Science content and the Dewey bookshelf organization which reinforces their learning in the discipline’s content and of Library Skills. I wrote about this lesson in an earlier blog post, and also about how Geography and Dewey organization of the 900s countries is another subject lesson opportunity.

Online Databases with Social Studies/Science Classes

My listservs also have repeated lesson requests for teaching online subscription database services. Such lessons only have value when they are integrated into classroom subject activities. Early in the school year I use WebQuests with Science and Social Studies classes to introduce an online encyclopedia and 2 other databases that have the specific resources students need to complete their projects. During later lessons students learn additional features and new databases relevant to their immediate needs.

Year-long project for Social Studies World Cultures Classes

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I developed an ongoing lesson with World Cultures classes to help students think like economic analysts. I introduce a particular online service from which students choose demographic statistics of 3-5 countries related to their unit and record them on a digital spreadsheet. Students then learn to create a graph from the spreadsheet comparing one demographic across countries. For each new unit students add new countries & statistics to the spreadsheets and I teach them a new kind of graph. (This is also great technology integration for spreadsheets.) By spacing these lessons throughout the school year students are developing content literacy in Social Studies.

The culmination of this long-term lesson is an authentic activity: students act as “members” of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (www.un.org/ecosoc/), whose goal is to “conduct cutting-edge analysis, agree on global norms, and advocate for…solutions” to advance sustainable development. During the library visit, students analyze their spreadsheets and create new graphs for a presentation on why their country should be chosen as most in need of development by the U.N. At the end of presentations, student “members” vote on which country the organization will support. This culminating activity further develops disciplinary thinking along with critical thinking and cooperative learning skills.

I developed a similar lesson with Science classes who visit our Outdoor Learning Center to conduct various science analyses, and during the library visit they participate in a “Science Symposium” to analyze the environmental impact of building a factory on empty land adjoining the OLC property. Both of these Library Lessons help build the Disciplinary Literacy that students need to be successful with current and future coursework.

Disciplinary Literacy and Research Projects

We revised a dull Immigration research/slide presentation and the typical ELA personal narrative into an authentic interdisciplinary project so students could learn the history of themselves the same way they learn the history of our State. “My Texas Heritage—How & Why I’m in Texas” gives students a sense of identity (important for middle schoolers) and provides a personal understanding of conceptual factors that have brought people into the state.

As the School Librarian I teach research skills with a variety of primary and secondary sources, both in print and online—biographies, speeches, letters, diaries, songs, and artwork. In ELA they learn how to interview family members in person and through written requests. In Social Studies they learn to discern similarities and differences between historical events and the lives of their own family.

Texas Visual History clippingConcise, well-written student webpages share information with family members, especially those out-of-state, forcing students to thoroughly think through and edit responses to their research questions. Students with common events in their background group together for mock newscasts of “eyewitness” accounts, and discern that historical “truths” often depend on one’s point of view—a valuable lesson for studying history. This project develops multiple disciplinary literacies as students learn to think like historians, journalists and authors, and newscasters.

Know the Curriculum!

It is apparent to me that the only way we School Librarians can integrate Content/Disciplinary Literacy into our Library Lessons is to become very familiar with the curriculum taught by our teachers. When we take to them a lesson plan that fully incorporates what they are doing in their classroom, they will be more willing to collaborate with us, knowing that the library visit is not only essential for learning the Subject-area’s content, but also for helping students learn to think according to that Discipline.

This is the second entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

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