Harvard Educational Review Spring 2008: Adolescent Literacy (#4)

“That is, there are differences in how the disciplines create, disseminate, and evaluate knowledge, and these differences are instantiated in their use of language.
There are at least three views regarding why this is so. One view is that the various disciplines- ostensible to protect the public from ‘charlatans’ but really to preserve a power base- created professional organizations with standards and distinct ways of expressing themselves (Geisler, 1994). Others reject that view, claiming instead that the differences are a natural outgrowth of differences in the nature or kind of knowledge being created by the disciplines (Schleppegrell, 2004). Still others argue that these differences are more a reflection of the activities in which the disciplines find themselves engaged (Bazerman, 1998). These activities include struggles for power, alliances, theoretical shifts, the creation of new forms of knowledge, and so on, which converge in acts of written communication. Together these positions are persuasive that the function of discipline-based texts is both ideational and social. Texts serve to advance knowledge while at the same time serving to maintain a field’s hegemony. The end result is that the literacy demands on students are unique, depending on the discipline they are studying”
— Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008, p. 48

I found this quote provoking, due to my recent reading and conversation about how there are different types of reading skills in content areas. Though some may be stronger in reading literature, others may be stronger in reading math. Regardless the case, I wonder how disciplines compare in evaluating knowledge, and I wonder if there are pros and cons to aligning evaluations within disciplines. I believe the activities within disciplines should differ, but expectations and language may need to remain consistent. For instance, if I require my learners to identify and utilize textual evidence when proving their responses, and math requires the learners to show their work through a math equation, I suppose both of these activities differ in practice, but have the same expectations.

Texts do indeed serve to advance knowledge, but how you interact with those texts and what you interact with will differ within disciplines.

Shanahan & Shanahan. (2008): Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents. Harvard Educational Review, 78 (1), 40-279.