Elizabeth Birr Moje
Advancing Adolescent Literacy Learning in the Disciplines

As outlined in the Carnegie Corporation’s Education sub-program announcement on Reading to Learn, extensive attention has been paid in the last 10 years to enhancing the literacy learning of young children. Such work has been and continues to be critical to developing a literate, engaged citizenry. Less attention has been paid, however, to the on-going needs and challenges of older readers and writers, particularly at the middle and high school levels, and particularly as students are confronted with the complex texts of the secondary school subject matter areas and disciplines.

At the University of Michigan, however, faculty have committed to the study of deep literacy and subject matter learning at both the elementary and secondary school levels, as evidenced by the extensive number of research projects at the University of Michigan dedicated to advancing both literacy learning and subject matter learning. (See, for example, the website of the Study of Social and Cultural Influences on Adolescent Literacy Development, www.umich.edu/~moje and the Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education’s website, www.hi-ce.org).

What’s more, The University of Michigan’s long-standing commitment to and research on teacher education and literacy education makes it an ideal site for the program. Four principles, emerging from U-M’s professional commitments and scholarly practices, shape our work in the Teacher Education program. The first rests with our orientation to preparing skillful beginning teachers able to teach effectively disciplinary content with integrity, particularly in settings where resources often inhibit the quality of teaching and learning. A second is our effort to recruit and select a diverse group of talented prospective teachers with variety of experiences to enrich their own and others’ understanding of the role of education in people’s lives. A third is to prepare teachers are conscious of the role of public education and liberal studies to contribute to the public good, and work to translate this into practice. And, fourth is our commitment that teaching and learning are studied and learned in practice, for both teachers and teacher educators.

Recently, the School of Education has committed to a re-invention of the Teacher Education program as a way of strengthening and expanding these principles. With support from the University of Michigan central administration, we have re-structured and will continue to develop our Teacher Education program, with Dr. Deborah Loewenberg Ball taking leadership as Director of Teacher Education. This restructuring of Teacher Education is situated within the larger professional preparation of our school, as we attend equally to the education of future teacher educators, education researchers, classroom teachers, and public school administrators. On-going conversations with key research and teaching faculty have explored the idea of approaching this reinvention across the disciplinary subject areas, via the lens of literacy as a tool for learning in the subject matters. With this proposal, we seek funding to support our reinvention with a focus on adolescent literacy teaching and learning as a thread that binds together—but also makes distinct—the subject areas of secondary schools (i.e., mathematics, social studies, science, and English language arts). The primary purposes of our proposed project are:

  1. To deepen knowledge of adolescent and disciplinary literacy teaching and assessment strategies among prospective teachers seeking secondary certification, with a focus on helping struggling readers and writers become successful readers and writers, not only of general texts, but of the complex texts they must read to access, synthesize, evaluate, and apply subject matter concepts.
  2. To situate the teaching of “disciplinary literacy processes” within the teaching of disciplinary teaching methods, particularly in mathematics and social studies/history classes.
  3. To engage prospective teachers in the guided practice of teaching discipline-specific literacy strategies and skills in actual content area middle and high school classrooms.
  4. To document the effectiveness of this approach to teacher education by:
    • Documenting prospective teachers’ growth in knowledge of adolescent/disciplinary literacy;
    • Documenting prospective teachers’ growth in ability to apply that knowledge in actual classroom settings; and
    • Documenting adolescent students’ growth in literacy skill and strategy use as a result of the prospective teachers’ practice.
  5. To provide a model for discipline-based adolescent literacy teacher education.

Although the above five foci are our primary purposes in this proposal, we also have three secondary goals:

  1. To build capacity in the field by providing training grounds for adolescent literacy researchers and teacher educators (via the graduate student research assistants and graduate student instructors who will work with us on the program).
  2. To strengthen the integration of our secondary teacher certification program within the School of Education by making discipline-specific literacy teaching the core of learning to teach in the disciplines.
  3. To strengthen existing relationships with the College of Literature , Science, and the Arts, in whose departments most students seeking secondary level teaching certification study.

Conceptions of Responsibility for Disciplinary Literacy Instruction: A Study of Secondary, Preservice Teachers in History and the Social Sciences