Reconceptualizing Content Area Literacy

Content Area Literacy
Adolescent Literacy in New(er) Times
Tom Bean
◦ University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Excerpt from Young Adult Novel, Teen Angst?
◦ “Stuyvesant (high school) had an interesting take
on education. The plan, it seemed, was to cram a
student’s head full of information, test the student
repeatedly, and then move on to an unrelated
subject with frightening speed. It was a shock after
studying digestion for a month, to hear your
biology teacher announce: “Okay, this unit is over.
Forget about the human digestive system. On to
locomotion in the paramecium” (p. 43).
In Michael Rose’s (2009, p. 19) essay,
Why School? He observes:
 “There’s not much public discussion of
achievement that includes curiosity,
reflectiveness, uncertainty, or a willingness to
take a chance to blunder…consider how little we
hear about intellect, aesthetics, joy, courage,
creativity, civility, understanding.”
So what is new and why reconceptualize
long held efforts to teach students generic
◦ In New(er) times:
 Traditional textbooks coexist with, or have been
supplanted by electronic forms of text and media
 Students may be more fluid users of these newer
forms of text than their teachers
 There is a clear recognition that disciplines and
their discourse communites are unique (e.g.
Bean, et al., 2011; Draper et al., 2010; Moje,
A few publications that are influencing our
◦ “More staid and static classroom texts once
familiar to baby boomer students must now
appear as curious historical artifacts to today’s
adolescents” (Bean & Harper, 2006).
Reconceptualizing content area literacy
◦ A focus on how knowledge is constructed in the
◦ Being less enamored with generic strategies
◦ Working in concert with faculty in the
Elizabeth Moje (2008) notes:
◦ “A reconceptualized view of secondary school
literacy suggests that a person who has
learned deeply in a discipline can use a variety
of representational forms—most notably
reading and writing of written texts, but also
oral language, visual images, music, or artistic
representations—to communicate their
learning, to sythesize ideas across texts and
across groups of people, to express new ideas,
and to question and challenge ideas held dear
in the disciplines and broader spheres (p. 99)
Disciplinary Uniqueness:
◦ The particularities of the disciplines matter and
becoming an “insider” requires immersion in
acting like a biologist, historian,
mathematician, critical theorist, and so on
(Draper et al., 2010).
At the same time:
◦ Students struggle with complex material (e.g.
in terms of technical and general vocabulary,
visualization and comprehension)
◦ Sophisticated reading and study strategies are
needed (and guidance by experts in the
disciplines in concert with literacy experts)
◦ Viewing texts as non-neutral and in need of
deconstruction and reconstruction is more
important than ever before (Stevens & Bean,
For example, in a science class:
◦ Conduct a water quality study in your
community by sampling home water
◦ Analyzing this data for pollutants
◦ Writing an account that supports a claim of
clean or polluted water
◦ To be submitted as a concise but scientifically
verifiable report to the county
Or, in physics, constructing a roller coaster….
In Moje’s view of metadiscursive
◦ “To be metadiscursive means that people not
only engage in many different discourse
communities but also know….what those
engagements mean for them and others in
terms of social positioning and larger power
relations” (p. 103)
◦ In essence, the time is ripe for critical literacy
in disciplinary practices
Critical literacy in action (deconstructing
and reconstructing the Kenny Chesney
tune: “The boys of fall.”
◦ Bean, T. W., Readence, J. E., & Baldwin, R. S.
(2011). Content area literacy: An integrated
approach (10th ed.). Dubuque, IA:
◦ Bean, T. W., & Harper, H. J. (2006).Content
area reading: Current state of the art. In D.
Lapp, & J. Flood (Eds.), Content area reading
and learning (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
References cont’d:
◦ Draper, R. J., et al. (2010). (Re) imagining content-area literacy
instruction. New York: Teachers College Press.
◦ Moje, E. B. (2008). Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary
literacy teaching and learning: A call for change. Journal of
Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52, (2), 96-107.
◦ Rose, M. (2009). Why school? New York: The New Press.
◦ Walker, N. T., Bean, T. W., & Dillard, B. R. (2010). When textbooks
fall short: New ways, new texts, new sources of information in the
content areas. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
◦ Stevens, L. P., & Bean, T. W. (2007). Critical literacy: Context,
research, and practice in the K-12 classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA:
◦ Vizzinni, N. (2000). Teen angst? Naaah. Minn. MN: Free Spirit

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