Saturday, October 5, 2013

Literacy Across the ENTIRE Curriculum

I often hear people say that literacy needs to be taught across the curriculum.  At the elementary level, I've taught three grades, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th, have worked as a K-5 school reading specialist, and have observed in many elementary classrooms other than my own.  Just from my own experience, I can honestly report that literacy is indeed taught and heavily focused on throughout the entire elementary curriculum.

Thinking of conversations with my colleagues at the middle and high school level, I see them going that way as well.  The days of dull science lectures, countless math problems on a page, and memorizing names and dates in social studies seem to be numbered.

In all curricular areas in schools throughout the country, students are learning how to listen, think, speak, read, and write to both learn and demonstrate their understanding.  I think the impending departure of standardized bubble-in tests may have a lot to do with that.  I wish I could remember who said this and in which context, but a wise person somewhere recently said that students should not be tested on what they can easily google.  This is such a powerful point in the argument for the shift in education from rote memorization to critical thinking and collaboration.

Teaching literacy throughout the curriculum supports our shift to focusing on critical thinking and collaboration.  Here are just a few examples of how it looked this week in my fifth grade classroom.

Literacy in Math

This week in math, students listened to and commented on a read aloud of How Much is a Million.  They also tried to think about ways we use big numbers in everyday life.  Not only that, but they also wrote about how to multiply decimals in their math notebooks.  My students were also fortunate to be challenged in math by an incredible educator through Twitter!  Thank you to Los Altos principal, Katie Kinnaman!

One student's decimal multiplication process notebook page.

Our Twitter conversation with @MrsKinnaman.  My students are continuing
to think of more examples to send.  I'm looking forward to seeing their further ideas! 

Literacy in Social Studies

Last year, I created a huge project on Native Americans for my students.  I wrote the questions, placed students in groups, and assigned a due date.  I knew it was going to be an amazing learning experience for them...  I was dead wrong.  Both the project and groupings created by me were miserably ineffective.  Students struggled and were completely uninterested in the topic and ideas.  So, this year, I rethought how I  teach social studies.  A couple weeks ago, I introduced a unit titled The First Peoples of North America.  I did no planning, no grouping, and no grunt work aside from gathering tons of books and providing my students with laptops and iPads for research.  This week, I simply asked students to think of questions and wonderings they have about the first people of North America.  Each student decided to focus on one group or nation, and developed shared inquiry questions.  Questions were written on the SMART board by students, and their research began.  So far, I've watched them engage in this for two days.  The power of their autonomy and interest-level in inquiry is a complete 180 degree difference from last year's teacher developed project.

Students engaged in their own inquiry about the first people of North America.

Students writing/sharing their own questions to guide their research.

We also discussed how current events are impacting us.  If you saw my last post, you know that the recent government shutdown may impact our upcoming field trip to Alcatraz Island.  We had a good class discussion about the situation.  I talked, students listened, students responded, students talked, students responded to each other.  It was a powerful conversation.  We also condensed our conversation into a Tweet.  Twitter is helping students write concise and to-the-point thoughts.  Plus, they love it!  It definitely helps in building engagement.

My students' Tweet about the shutdown impacting our upcoming field trip.

Literacy in Reading & Writing

The title of this section is awfully redundant.  Instead of continuing the redundancy, I'll let the pictures and captions do the work.  Here they are:

We started fiction book clubs this week!
This shows one student's thoughts before reading.

First book club group discussion.  Students were grouped
based on their own book choice.

One student sharing her published piece of writing in the Writing Workshop.
Other students listening and thinking to provide comments, compliments, and questions.

2nd & 5th grade buddy time!  Students shared and commented on each
other's personal narrative pieces using our common writing language. 

2nd & 5th grade buddy writing conference

More 2nd & 5th grade buddy writing conferences.

We had such a great week in class.  Infusing literacy throughout the curriculum not only builds student interest and skills, but also it helps develop a sense of autonomy and pride in each student.  I can't wait to see what my kiddos come up with next week! 


  1. How did the Native American research question turn out? Was there an end product of learning the students got to choose to do? I am currently deciding how I want my students to learn about the Age of Exploration. I have a structured research report that I have completed in the past, but I would like to see more engagement and motivation when the students are in charge of what they want to learn.


    1. The questions were both thoughtful and surprising. Many students found they had the same questions, so they decided to research together to find answers. There was no end product for our unit on Native Americans. However, when we did the Age of Exploration, much of my students' research resurfaced naturally. Now, we're learning about the beginnings of colonial America. Even though they researched Native Americans months ago, they're relating all of their learnings then to what they're learning now. I found inquiry-based research to be extremely powerful.

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