Shared Responsibility for Students’ Literacy Development

All K-12 teachers, including social studies teachers, have a shared responsibility for developing students literacy skills.  In many ways, social studies is or should be the non-fiction reading and writing class.  It has been reported on numerous blogs and articles that English teachers are being forced to give up teaching classic and high quality literature, so that they can put more emphasis on non-fiction informational text.  However, the introduction section of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts clearly states that teaching literacy is a shared responsibility in our schools.  Language arts teachers can and should continue to teacher great literature, as adopted by their local school boards, and teachers in social studies and the other content should engage their reading a variety of texts / documents, researching, and writing on a regular basis.

The except below is from the Key Design Elements section of the Introduction of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts – http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration 


The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school. The K–5 standards include expectations for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language applicable to a range of subjects, including but not limited to ELA. The grades 6–12 standards are divided into two sections, one for ELA and the other for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This division reflects the unique, time-honored place of ELA teachers in developing students’ literacy skills while at the same time recognizing that teachers in other areas must have a role in this development as well.

Part of the motivation behind the interdisciplinary approach to literacy promulgated by the Standards is extensive research establishing the need for college and career ready students to be proficient in reading complex informational text independently in a variety of content areas. Most of the required reading in college and workforce training programs is informational in structure and challenging in content; postsecondary education programs typically provide students with both a higher volume of such reading than is generally required in K–12 schools and comparatively little scaffolding.

The Standards are not alone in calling for a special emphasis on informational text. The 2009 reading framework of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) requires a high and increasing proportion of informational text on its assessment as students advance through the grades.

Distribution of Literary and Informational Passages by Grade in the 2009 NAEP Reading Framework

Grade Literary Information
4 50% 50%
8 45% 55%
12 30% 70%

(2008). Reading framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

The Standards aim to align instruction with this framework so that many more students than at present can meet the requirements of college and career readiness. In K–5, the Standards follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. In accord with NAEP’s growing emphasis on informational texts in the higher grades, the Standards demand that a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom. Fulfilling the Standards for 6–12 ELA requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional.  Because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.1 To measure students’ growth toward college and career readiness, assessments aligned with the Standards should adhere to the distribution of texts across grades cited in the NAEP framework.

NAEP likewise outlines a distribution across the grades of the core purposes and types of student writing. The 2011 NAEP framework, like the Standards, cultivates the development of three mutually reinforcing writing capacities: writing to persuade, to explain, and to convey real or imagined experience. Evidence concerning the demands of college and career readiness gathered during development of the Standards concurs with NAEP’s shifting emphases: standards for grades 9–12 describe writing in all three forms, but, consistent with NAEP, the overwhelming focus of writing throughout high school should be on arguments and informative/explanatory texts.2

Distribution of Communicative Purposes by Grade in the 2011 NAEP Writing Framework

Grade To Persuade To Explain To Convey Experience
4 30% 35% 35%
8 35% 35% 30%
12 40% 40% 20%

Source: National Assessment Governing Board. (2007). Writing framework for the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, pre-publication edition. Iowa City, IA: ACT, Inc.

It follows that writing assessments aligned with the Standards should adhere to the distribution of writing purposes across grades outlined by NAEP.

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