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Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you about a recent curriculum audit that was conducted for the ELA curriculum in
grades 10-11 at our school and the implementation of literacy across the content areas. The
purpose of this memo is to introduce the problem that was explored, curriculum audit results,
give connections to research on content area literacy, and the implications for professional
learning.

The Content Area Literacy School Improvement Plan (SIP) goal for our school is that “students
will read and interpret informational text through the use of content area literacy”. The SIP plan
states that 90% of all students will demonstrate proficiency in reading on state assessments.
This led to an audit of the ELA curriculum in grades 10-11 to determine the coherence,
articulation, and alignment of the curriculum. Since content area literacy is a SIP goal, specific
reading strategies that ELA teachers utilize with students to increase reading comprehension
and knowledge of text was looked at and analyzed. A survey was given to all subject area
teachers to determine teacher’s implementation of content area literacy, knowledge of content
area literacy strategies, and specific strategies teachers use in their classrooms.

Curriculum Audit Results

The audit analysis suggests that:


● the ELA department has strong curriculum coherence between grade levels. The written
curriculum is in alignment with the informal, taught curriculum. The written and taught
curriculum are in alignment with the CCSS.
● According to the assessment data that was collected during the audit (15-16 SAT
results), 74% of Junior students met benchmark for Evidence Based Reading and
Writing. The data also suggests that there is an achievement gap between African
American students, students with disabilities, and students who are economically
disadvantaged (scored significantly lower) compared to those of other races.
● The Content Area Literacy Teacher survey revealed that many of the teachers do not
feel comfortable with utilizing specific reading strategies in their content area (25% of the
teachers who responded indicated that they do not feel comfortable or knowledgeable
enough to use specific strategies).

Connections to Literature and Research​- ​Best Practices in Content Area Literacy

Our student achievement on reading and writing demonstrates that a high number of our
students who are being tested are not reading and writing at a proficient level on state
assessments. This means that many students may leave high school without 21st century
literacy skills. According to Susan Goldman (2012), 21st century literacy skills include “being
able to use reading and writing to acquire knowledge, solve problems, and make decisions in
academic, personal, and professional areas” (p. 90). If we want our students to be literate in the
21st century, teachers need to have the skills and knowledge to effectively teach them the skills.
Goldman suggests that three instructional strategies are needed for students to be able to read
to learn: ​strategy based instruction, discussion based instruction, and disciplinary based
instruction​ (p. 94). Research based reading strategies utilized before, during, and after reading
such as K-W-L charts, anticipation guides, sketching, and many more can be taught across
curriculum areas (Daniels & Zemelman, 2004). A combination of these three approaches in all
content areas, can vastly improve student learning through reading and writing. Furthermore,
having a set structure in relation to teaching literacy will more likely allow students to have a
deeper understanding of the content area (Hurst & Pearman, 2013).

Another complication is the use of informational text to engage students in content area literacy.
Joan Barnett, Ph.D, (2010), defines informational text as “non-fiction trade books or
non-narrative texts, including factual books that are not textbooks nor reference materials.
These may include content-based books in science, social studies, and fine arts areas,
biographies, and autobiographies” (p. 2). Barnett explains further that the use of informational
text has the potential to increase engagement, ability to differentiate instruction, and can be
used as a support for inquiry approach to content knowledge. It’s important that we ensure our
teachers understand what is considered informational text and how to engage students in
reading informational text to learn.

Research by Gail Thibodeau (2008) suggests that content area literacy focus in schools is best
achieved through on-going collaboration and professional learning between teachers.
Thibodeau’s research study concluded the following: “interdisciplinary collaborative groups can
benefit teachers as well as their students. The job-embedded, on-going nature of this endeavor
increased the capacity of the participating high school teachers to integrate literacy strategies in
their content instruction, resulting in student achievement” (p. 63). This research confirms that
teachers need to engage in collaborative, job-embedded professional learning on content area
literacy to be better prepared to teach students 21st century literacy skills.

Implications for Professional Learning

The curriculum audit that was conducted demonstrates that we are not meeting the content area
literacy goal. Students are not reading at 90% proficiency (although scores have demonstrated
growth) and the teacher survey suggests that teachers are not implementing reading strategies
in a consistent and structured manner. If we want our students to be successful readers and
understand how to read to learn, we must invest in the capacity of our teachers.
The research literature on content area literacy suggests that teachers need to implement
specific strategies across curriculum related to literacy, have a set structure for teaching literacy,
utilize informational text, and engage in professional learning that allows them to collaborate
and learn from each other. A common theme across the research on content area literacy is that
teachers must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to teach students literacy skills which
will ultimately improve student achievement and learning.

The recommendation is that we develop a specific professional learning plan around content
area literacy that will allow teachers to participate in job-embedded learning that includes
l​earning specific content area literacy strategies, practicing the strategies in their classrooms,
receive coaching and feedback on their practices, and on going collaboration between teachers
across content areas​. We have a PLC model that would allow us to incorporate this professional
learning plan once per month by setting aside time for PLC groups to collaboratively work on
content area literacy. The PLC groups may need to be changed so teachers can collaborate
with teachers from different content areas and group sizes are reduced (5-6 teachers in each
PLC group is ideal). An outline for the Content Area Literacy Professional Learning Plan will be
developed for the 17-18 school year.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. Thank you.

Jordan Stoyek
References

Barnatt, Joan, Ph.D. (2010). The power of non-fiction: using informational text to support literacy

in special populations. ​Learn NC: K-12 Teaching and Learning from the UNC

School of Education.​ Retrieved from

http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/every-learner/6554.

Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2004). ​Subjects matter: Every teacher’s guide to content-area

reading. ​Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.

Goldman, S. R. (2012). Learning and understanding content. ​The Future of Children, 22 (2), pp.

89-116. ​http://www.jstor.org/stable/23317413​.

Hurst, B., & Pearman, C. J. (2013). Teaching reading? but i’m not a reading teacher! ​Critical

Questions in Education, 4 (3), p. 225-234. ​http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1046738​.

Thibodeau, G. M. (2008). A content area literacy collaborative study group: high school teachers

take charge of their professional learning. ​Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52 (1),

pp. 54-64. ​http://www.jstor.org/stable/30139650​.