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(Re)imagining Content-area Literacy Instruction

reviewed by Heather Casey - December 13, 2010

coverTitle: (Re)imagining Content-area Literacy Instruction
Author(s): Roni Jo Draper, Paul Broomhead, Amy Petersen Jensen, Jeffery D. Nokes, and Daniel Siebert (eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080775126X, Pages: 192, Year: 2010
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In this text Roni Jo Draper and her colleagues use a 21st century lens to explore a “(re)imagined” view of content-area literacy. The authors explain:

…we have worked to (re)imagine content-area literacy so that it truly would prepare adolescents to negotiate and create texts central to the disciplines and enable them to address the problems they confront in their roles as citizens of various communities. This book represents both our attempt to (re)imagine together and our desire to encourage others to do the same. (p. 4)

This reimagining begins with a discussion of how the use of texts across disciplines is influenced by the shared roles of literacy educators and their content area colleagues. This theme is supported and discussed throughout the text by the authors targeting specific disciplines.

The authors go on to offer an expanded definition of text that is situated within current research on adolescent literacy (Lanksher & Nobel, 2008; Moje, Stockdill, Kim, & Kim, 2010). The authors reject traditional views of text as bound by fixed print, claiming:

The use of traditional definitions of text and literacy may be responsible for the majority of conflicts between literacy specialists and content-area teachers. In order to address literacy, the literacy specialist feels compelled to make recommendations that include the reading and writing of traditional print text. (p. 26)

Draper and Seibert go on to suggest an expanded definition of literacy, which they describe as:

…the ability to negotiate (e.g., read, view, listen, taste, smell, critique) and create (e.g., write, produce, sing, act, speak) texts in discipline-appropriate ways or in ways that other members of a discipline (e.g., mathematicians, historians, artists) would recognize as “correct” or “viable.” This inclusion of discipline-appropriateness in our definition of literacy acknowledges that interacting (i.e., negotiating and creating) with texts in meaningful ways requires knowledge of the content and processes associated with disciplinary domains... (p. 30)

The chapters that follow offer ideas about how this multimodal view of negotiating and creating meaning can be realized within specific disciplines including Mathematics, History, Music, Technology, Theater, English Language Arts, Science, and Visual Arts. Each of these chapters describes the discipline-specific literacy processes students need to use to support their content learning. These theories of learning are grounded in vignettes of teaching episodes within each discipline.

Each of the content specific chapters (Chapters 3-10) follows a similar framework, though not in a synchronous order. Each chapter describes how the act of “creating” and “negotiating” meaning supports learning specific to the discipline. For example, in Chapter 4, “(Re)imagining Literacy for History Classrooms,” Nokes describes the need to move beyond the passive consumption of textbook learning to the more active, authentic act of historical inquiry. “In history classrooms where literacy instruction occurs, students are invited into the community of practice and learn how to negotiate and create the texts that are valued by historians” (p. 57). Nokes aligns this multimodal view of literacy practices that allows students to move beyond content acquisition to the active study of history as a discipline with the national standards in history education and research on effective pedagogy. Nokes further contextualizes his (re)imagined view of the study of history by offering the reader several vignettes of classroom instruction that grounds his discussion in actual practice.

A consistent theme across the chapters is a call to shift from passive consumption of monomodal text to a more active participatory structure where the texts that are created and negotiated include symphonies, dances, fixed and moving images, among others, as well as the printed word. The active role this requires students and teachers to assume is aligned with the national standards in each discipline and is also grounded within specific vignettes and relevant research. Collectively, each of these chapters makes explicit the discipline specific literacies needed to move beyond the passive reception of knowledge that has historically been ascribed to content area literacy to the deeper, more complex role of discipline study. In these chapters, students and teachers are invited to study the content of art, music, math, etc. by engaging in literate acts that allow the students to deconstruct the discipline itself to become artists and art historians, musicians, and mathematicians.

According to the editors and the authors of each of the chapters, the relationship between the literacy specialist and the content area specialist is essential for this (re)imagined view of content area literacy to support student learning successfully. The authors describe a hierarchical history of content area literacy where the literacy specialist offered isolated reading and writing strategies that content area teachers were expected to apply to their discipline. This often resulted in frustration on the part of the specialists and it inadequately supported the students. The editors and authors in this text, however, suggest that this revision of content area literacy requires that the literacy specialist and the content area specialist collaborate to make explicit the literacy students use to engage in the study of each discipline. For example, in Chapter 9, “(Re)imagining Literacies for Science Classrooms” Draper and Adair suggest that

Before science teachers can adequately support adolescents’ acquisition of the literacies associated with learning and doing science, they must identify the texts adolescents confront in science classrooms and determine the literacies required in order to negotiate and create those texts…literacy specialists and science teachers who have worked together to do this will be in a position to collaborate to design literacy instruction around those texts and literacies. (p. 139)

This call for collaboration across specialists and disciplines is a consistent theme across each of the chapters. Siebert and Hendrickson (in Chapter 3) draw on the guidelines of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics when they suggest, “…students need to be able to reason about quantitative situations, solve problems, form and test conjectures, communicate and evaluate mathematical reasoning, and model real life- contexts” (p. 40). Student learning is no longer solely measured by the arrival at an answer but is understood by documenting the discipline-specific processes students use along the way.

This movement towards more authentic learning is consistent across the disciplines discussed in this text. In (Re)imagining Content Area Literacies, Draper and her colleagues present a 21st century vision of content area literacy that speaks to this call across national standards to invite students to become students of the disciplines. This requires a more sophisticated creation and negotiation of meaning that exists in tandem with the 21st century multimodal tools that students create and negotiate. The authors state,

Authors of the content chapters have argued consistently that the (re)imagining of literacies for content-area classrooms proposed in this book not only is compatible with good content-area instruction, but in fact must be included in content-area instruction in order to meet the learning and teaching standards in the disciplines. (p. 160)

Literacy specialists are called upon by Draper, Nokes, and Siebert in this final chapter to take the lead in initiating these relationships and initiatives with their content area colleagues. It is this vision of collaboration that the authors describe, across specialties, across expanded conceptions of texts, and across disciplines that offers a pathway for students to move beyond the acquisition of content to the active “negotiation” and “creation” of the discipline itself.


Lanksher, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). Digital literacies: Concepts, policies, and practices. New York: Peter Lang Publishers.

Moje, E. B., Stockdill, D., Kim, K., & Kim, H. (2010). The role of text in disciplinary learning. In M. Kamil, P.D. Pearson, E.B. Moje, & P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 4, pp. 453-486). New York: Routledge.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 13, 2010
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16258, Date Accessed: 5/22/2022 10:58:08 PM

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About the Author
  • Heather Casey
    Rider University
    E-mail Author
    HEATHER CASEY is currently an Assistant Professor in Literacy Education in the Department of Teacher Education at Rider University. Heather teaches literacy methods courses to pre-service Elementary Education and English Education students. Her research focuses on adolescent literacy development and the use of Web 2.0 tools to motivate learning across contexts and content areas. Heather has published this research in a variety of journals and books and is currently engaged in a research study of the use of learning clubs to support learning across content areas. Recent and upcoming publications: Casey, H. (anticipated 2011 – in process). If you value collaboration-hold them accountable for Collaborative group work. To be published in D. Lapp & B. Moss Teaching with Rigor: Supporting Multiple Ways of Learning. New York: Guilford. Casey, H. (2011). Virtual constructions: Developing a teacher identityin the 21st century. In S. Abrams & J. Rowsell (Eds.), "Rethinking Identity and Literacy Education in the 21st Century." National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook, 110(1). - currently in the copyediting stage. Casey, H. (2010). Engaging the disengaged: Using learning clubs to motivate struggling adolescent readers and writers. In R. Bean, N. Heisey and C. Roller (Eds.). Preparing Reading Professionals. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Rowsell, J. & Casey, H. (2009, December). Shifting frames: inside the pathways and obstacles of two teachers’ literacy instruction. Linguistics and Education, 20, 311 - 327. Casey, H. (2009, December). Intersections and interactions: A case study of a seventh grade teacher’s practices with struggling readers and writers. Journal of School Connections, 2, 23 – 47.
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