In the new Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by over 40 states, middle and high school teachers are challenged to teach reading and writing skills in the context of science, history, social studies, and technical subject courses.
This particular subset of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) can be useful to teachers addressing two common situations. (1) Although strong in their content area, science, technical subject, history, and social studies teachers may be less sure when it comes to showing students how to fully grasp textbook content or how to write skillfully about subject matter. (2) Language arts teachers have the ability to support reading and writing beyond their classrooms, but they don't necessarily have deep knowledge of the kinds of reading and writing needed in other classrooms. A shared language essential to cross-curricular mentoring and planning has been missing.
No longer! Now, with the Common Core State Standards in hand, teachers of all content areas can gather around a single set of literacy standards. Special reading and writing needs inherent in each content area can illuminate discussions. In curriculum planning meetings, specific vocabulary and essential understandings from science, history, social studies, and technical subject courses can hold an equal place with general reading and writing skills.
Reading standards for Literacy
Let's look at two example standards from Grades 9-10.
In the Reading for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects Craft and Structure section, we find standard code RST.9-10.6.
Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, defining the question the author seeks to address
In the Reading for Literacy in History/Social Studies Craft and Structure section, we have an equivalent standard RH.9-10.6.
Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
Using these two standards as common meeting points, middle and high school teachers across the curriculum can delve into the complexities of teaching reading skills, and they can do it in a supportive, collegial setting. Language arts teachers can lend their specialized reading analysis skills to textbook content targeted by science, technical subject, history and social studies teachers.
Writing Standards for Literacy
Not every middle and high school subject area teacher enjoys the writing process or feels comfortable teaching writing. The CCSS writing for literacy standards offer subject area teachers support by identifying skills students should be able to demonstrate in all courses. Let's consider the second standard (with parts a-f) from the 6-8 Writing for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects group.
WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
a. Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow, organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
b. Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
c. Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
e. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone.
f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.
Using these standards as a guiding light, each subject area specialist can blend subject specifics with a language arts teacher's deep understanding of writing to forge a strong best-practices model. It is easy to imagine collegial conversations among middle and high school teachers across the entire curriculum.
Taken together, the CCSS reading and writing literacy in subject area standards provide a platform filled with points of shared understanding among all middle and high school teachers. They are so rich in content that they can easily support year-long, enlightening conversations.